Months after Hermiston’s water rates increased, customers are still upset with the increase.
Dozens of people showed up to the city council’s Aug. 26 meeting to voice their complaints, and on Monday Russ Greene added his two cents.
Greene, who owns Five Star Car Wash and Five Star Auto Wash in Hermiston, said his business, which uses large amounts of water, had been hit especially hard by the rate restructure that charges higher rates for larger users.
He said his water bill had gone up from $1,409 last August to $4,105 this August.
“I’m going to have to look at raising rates for customers,” he said.
As Greene and others continue to question rates, here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:
How much did water rates go up?
Previously, the city had charged a $19.82 base rate for 3,000 gallons, $1.50 per thousand gallons for 3,001-13,000 gallons and $1.25 per thousand for more than 13,000 gallons. Sewer was a flat $27.25 fee.
As of March 1, the rate changed to a $30 base rate, 50 cents per 1,000 gallons up to 15,000 gallons and $3.50 per 1,000 gallons above 15,000. Sewer is a $35 base rate plus $3.00 per 1,000 gallons of use, calculated using the customer’s average water use per month during winter months.
A family using 20,000 gallons of water and sewer every month would receive a bill of $115 for water and sewer combined, compared to $70.82 previously. But in practice, most families’ water use varies dramatically between summer and winter, when they aren’t watering their lawn. A family that uses 10,000 gallons next December and 30,000 gallons next June will see a December water/sewer bill of $100 and a June bill of $155.
How much money is that expected to raise?
Anderson Perry & Associates, the engineering firm that calculated the needed rate structure to pay for water and sewer projects in the city’s capital improvement plan, estimated the new rates will raise an additional $2-3 million per year. The firm’s rate studies take into account how much customers usually cut back on water use as rates rise.
What is the extra money being used for?
In January the city council adopted a five-year capital improvement plan put together by a public infrastructure committee and engineers from Anderson Perry. The plan included $4.4 million for 18 needed improvements to the water system and $6.5 million for 23 different sewer system expenditures.
Another $7.4 million in water projects were listed in the appendices as projects that were needed but would likely not be completed in the next five years due to lack of funding.
Projects listed in the five-year plan include water and sewer line replacements, extending lines to new areas, well upgrades, pump upgrades, lift station upgrades, emptying the wastewater treatment plant’s biosolids reservoir, replacing the 20-year-old computer system running the water system and replacing or adding various pieces of equipment. Some of the city’s pipes being replaced are more than 100 years old.
How does Hermiston’s water rates compare to other cities?
The city of Pendleton recently completed a rate study to compare water and sewer bills throughout Oregon and southeastern Washington, using the average Pendleton residential customer’s usage of 9,725 gallons a month.
Hermiston ranked 29th lowest on the list of 41 cities, at $96.79. The average was $115.05.
Nearby cities on the list included Milton-Freewater ($69.62), Umatilla ($76.31), La Grande ($90), Kennewick ($94.52), Pendleton ($96.95), The Dalles ($103.62), Heppner ($107.79) and Walla Walla ($135.20). Pasco and Richland were the lowest on the list at $68.79 and $69.05 respectively, while Portland and Sweet Home topped the list at $222.89 and $192.28.
What help is available for people struggling to pay their water bill?
Low-income Hermiston residents can apply for a 50% reduction in their rate based on financial hardship. The application can be found at city hall, 180 NE Second St., or online at hermiston.or.us/water/rates.
The city offers a free app and website called EyeOnWater, where customers can log in and track their water usage. The app can be used to spot leaks by checking for flows of water happening when no water is being used in the home, and can also be used to track how much water various activities use so that customers can create a plan for conserving water.
If EyeOnWater detects a leak, residents who present evidence to city hall that they fixed the leak within 30 days of its discovery will only be charged for half of the water lost in the leak during that billing cycle.
The federal website epa.gov/watersense offers information about ways residents can lower their water bill through conservation.