The Hermiston City Council will consider raising water and sewer rates Monday. The increase would generate approximately $2 million per year in additional revenue.
Under a pair of resolutions up for a vote, the city would implement a base charge of $35 a month for sewer service plus $3 for each 1,000 gallons of use, based on wintertime usage. Water users would pay a base charge of $30 per month, plus 50 cents per 1,000 gallons up to 15,000 gallons and $3.50 per 1,000 gallons thereafter. Rates would be the same for both residential and commercial customers.
Mark Morgan, the assistant city manager, said the recommendation comes because rising costs, particularly debt service on the recycled water treatment plant upgrade, have eaten into the utility fund’s reserves and do not leave money for needed capital improvements.
“Right now, so much of our revenue is going toward (the debt payments) that we can’t pay for anything else,” he said.
When the treatment plant came online in 2014, the city reported that the $17.2 million upgrade was putting out recycled water “virtually indistinguishable from drinking water,” with suspended solids at 0.7 parts per million instead of the previous 20 ppm. The city won a state award for its innovation in sending the recycled water to an irrigation canal for agricultural use instead of into the river. City manager Byron Smith told the city council that year that the final phase of the project, the outfall pipe carrying water away from the plant, came in $1 million under budget.
At a Sept. 10 work session, city engineers presented rate restructure options that would provide money for maintenance and projects in the capital improvement plan. At that time, councilors said they preferred a plan that charged heavy users more, which would incentivize conservation and lessen the burden on light users such as senior citizens on a fixed income.
The proposal the council will consider Monday would raise the water bill for a user of 20,000 gallons from $44.48 to $52.50 a month. A sewer user of 5,000 gallons per month would see their bill go from $27.25 a month to $50. However, Morgan said in looking at his own family’s water usage over the last year — for two adults and a young child in a single-family home with a yard — they only use about 14,000 gallons a month in water and 2,200 in sewer, which would mean an 87 cent increase in their water bill and $14 more a month for sewer.
The proposed rate increase would go into effect in March 2019, and users’ sewer rates for the next year would be based on usage for this December, January and February. Customers can track their water usage down to the minute using their online account.
“That gives people the ability to look at conservation measures this winter,” Morgan said.
In a news release, Morgan wrote that a comparison of 31 comparable cities in Oregon and Washington’s Columbia Basin, Hermiston’s current rates mark it as the second lowest. The increase would “still rank Hermiston in the lower-third” and would be lower than Pendleton.
On Monday, the council will also vote on a construction manager/general contractor for a project to improve the RV park and build new fair offices at the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center. The city received three responses to its request for proposals — Kirby Nagelhout of Pendleton, Knerr Construction of Hermiston and CA Rowles Engineering/Kortay Northwest of Bend — and staff are recommending selection of Knerr Construction.
Also on Monday’s council agenda is a joint facility use agreement between the city and Hermiston School District. The agreement would formalize many shared uses already in practice, such as school district use of the city’s aquatic center for swim team practice and the city’s use of soccer fields at Rocky Heights Elementary School.
The regular city council meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at city hall, 180 NE Second St. It will be preceded by a work session on housing and the Hermiston Public Library’s strategic plan at 6 p.m. The full agenda packet can be found online at hermiston.or.us/meetings.