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Sewer rate hike gains OK in The Dalles

— The Dalles City Council approved a series of 3.44 percent rate increases in the sewer bill Monday with two dissenting votes.

Councilors Tim McGlothlin and Linda Miller voted against approval of the $1.45 per month increase that goes into effect March 1 and is followed by annual 3.44 percent hikes through March of 2022.

Resident John Nelson passed out an informational sheet to reflect how increases in water and sewer rates will affect household bills. His data showed the residential sewer rate of $41.85 per month rising $16.83 by 2022. The existing water bill of $47.88 each month will be $97.14 in nine years, for a combined bill that goes from $89.73 to $155.82.

Nelson said the average family in The Dalles would be paying $1,869 per year for water and sewer in 2022, an increase of $793.03.

The situation was even worse for families living in the urban fringe area, said Nelson. He said these people would pay $245.45 per month for water and sewer by 2022, a difference of $102.49. Per year, he said their costs would go up by $1,229.78, to $2,945.30.

“I do not want to see our sewer going into the Columbia River and I’m willing to pay for that,” said Nelson. “But I think with so many folks in town on fixed incomes, we can’t afford this.”

Miller opposed raising costs for area families during tough economic times. McGlothlin objected to increasing rates to cover the expenditure of $1.2 million for a new building at the wastewater treatment plant, which might not be a true need.

“I have committed to holding the line on spending unless it’s for the health and safety of the community and I question (the expenditures of) Phase Three,” he said.

The $17 million project is planned to be completed in three phases, the first two of which address deficiencies and replace aging or outdated equipment. The third phase sets the stage to expand operations to meet growth needs and McGlothlin questioned the population numbers provided by a consultant.

The statistics compiled by Carollo Engineers, a firm based in Portland, estimated that 20,479 people would be served by the East First Street plant in 2022 and 23,203 by 2030. Those projections were based on the recent 1.6 percent increase in residents that is anticipated to increase slightly to 1.9 percent and then drop to 1.3 percent through 2030.

The improvements will be funded by the issuance of revenue bonds in 2014, 2017 and 2020, each repaid over 20 years not only by rate increases but possibly by higher system development charges. The city has already banked $3.2 million that will be used to help cover come of the project costs.

Councilor Carolyn Wood made the motion to enact the rate increases, which was seconded by Councilor Dan Spatz and approved by Councilor Bill Dick.

“This is the least painful way to bring this along,” said Wood, who reminded her peers that past councils had put off rate increases for many years to avoid political censure. She said officials avoiding those tough calls had led to the current situation where an aging infrastructure system needed an expensive overhaul.

Dick sought agreement from Nolan Young, city manager and Dave Anderson, public works director, that the council could revisit the rate issue in the future. He said the rate increases could be downgraded or removed if revenue needs changed or a revised population forecast showed that some of the work was not necessary within the established timeline.

He agreed with testimony given at a Jan. 11 public hearing by Nelson that developers of new projects that bring growth should bear much of the cost for upgrades.

The council will hold a public hearing April 22 to consider increasing the cost for sanitary service provided to new or expanding development. The current maximum fee of $1,789 could go up to $2 572 or somewhere in between, if elected officials take action.

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