Sewer, water rates may rise

<p>Workers continue to make progress on the new wastewater treatment plant outside Hermiston. The City Council recently approved consideration of utility rate increases to help fund the project.</p>

The Hermiston City Council voted to consider a plan to incrementally increase water and sewer rates for city residents at its regular meeting Monday.

The proposal would raise the rates by 4 percent every six months for two years, beginning Jan. 1, 2014. By July 1, 2015, the total 16 percent increase would be in effect. The last time rates were raised in the city was July 1, 2010.

The increases were recommended by D. Hittle and Associates, Inc., an electrical and engineering consulting firm from Kennewick, to pay for construction and operation of the city’s new Recycled Water Treatment Plant, estimated to cost $27.2 million. The original proposal sought an 8 percent increase beginning July 1, 2014 followed by another 8 percent increase a year later.

At the urging of Councilman John Kirwan, however, the council decided to adopt the 4 percent increase every six months for two years. Kirwan said he thought the new plan would ease the financial burden of the rate hike for residents with lower or fixed incomes.

While acknowledging the economic hardship a utility rate hike can have on residents, Mayor David Drotzmann stressed, even with the proposed increases, residents of Hermiston will continue to enjoy some of the lowest utility rates among comparably sized cities in eastern Oregon. Drotzmann also addressed the benefits to utility services that residents will see as a result of the new rates.

“These increases will pay for the necessary upgrades to our systems to ensure that we continue to deliver top-quality water and sewer service to our residents,” Drotzmann said. “Even with the scheduled increases, Hermiston’s rates remain very competitive compared to other cities.”

According to figures released by city officials, the average utility customer in Hermiston in 2012 paid less for comparable services than residents in La Grande, Baker City, Ontario, Pendleton and The Dalles.

The revenue generated from the proposed sewer and water rate increases will go to fund the new water treatment plant as well as provide $1.25 million for the Oregon State University experiment station water line extension. The extension provides water services to about 80 acres of land at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center just outside the city limits.

The council will consider the proposed rate increases at its next meeting, Oct. 28.

In other council news, Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan spoke to the council urging support for two levies that he said will greatly increase the capacity of his department to patrol the county and detain those who break the law.

Rowan addressed concerns from his department that without the additional funding the levies would generate, the ability of the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office to effectively practice law enforcement would be seriously impaired.

Rowan said the measures would aid the department in two distinct ways. The first levy would provide funding for additional staff at the county jail and costs associated with dispatch consolidation. Currently, the jail is not able to operate at full capacity and, at times, has had to release detainees ahead of schedule.

The levy would cost taxpayers 40 cents per $1,000 of taxable value to net $1.6 million annually. The fate of the levy will be decided by voters in all areas, rural and urban, in Umatilla County except the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

The second levy would cost 94 cents per $1,000 of taxable value to net $2.2 million annually for five years. This levy would fund 18 additional officers for the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office. Rowan said the additional manpower would allow the department to provide more comprehensive law enforcement coverage for the county.

The levy will be decided by voters in rural areas and cities that currently have no police department but does not include Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation lands.

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