Willamina eyes sewer and water hikes

WILLAMINA — Residents are facing prospective rate hikes of 5 percent for water service and 3 percent for sewer service, effective Aug. 15.

The city council developed the proposals at its Thursday night meeting. It plans to hold a public hearing on them at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 12, then vote on their adoption.

“The sewer and water systems are not making money, and they have to,” said Councilor Gary Hill Jr., who proposed a 5 percent increase for each.

“I don’t think those jumps are so big that people should get scared,” he said.

Even at 5 percent, the increases would not take the city where it needs to be.

Councilor Jeri St. Onge said she was uncomfortable with increases of any kind, but could reluctantly support ones of 5 and 3 percent.

At that level, the basic water rate would rise $1.50 a month for senior citizens and $1.80 per month for other residential users. The basic sewer rate would rise $2.90 for senior citizens and $3.55 for other residential users.

City Recorder Sue Hollis told the council increases of that magnitude aren’t sufficient in themselves, but she said it’s better to phase increases in over time. She said a series of smaller increments is better accepted than a sudden jump.

In her report to the council, Hollis noted current water fund debt includes two loans from USDA Rural Development with an estimated combined balance of $875,500 and combined annual payment of $66,600. She said one has six payments remaining and the other 28.

Current sewer fund debt includes two loans from the Oregon Infrastructure Financing Authority with an estimated combined balance of $1,592,400 and combined annual payment of $179,000, she said. She said one has 10 payments remaining and the other 15.

The water fund is not self-supporting for on-going operations and loan payments, according to Hollis. The sewer fund has loaned money to the water fund every year to avoid default, she said.

The sewer fund is barely self-supporting, and then only for ongoing operations, Hollis said. There is no money left to set aside for maintenance, repair, equipment replacement and ultimately plant replacement, she said.

Both funds typically start the year with barely enough cash for one full month of operation.

The city’s Water Master Plan, drafted by Peter Olsen of Keller Associates, projects a need for $6.75 million in water system improvements over the next 20 years. That being the case, the need for continued rate increases will be hard for future councils to ignore, the firm suggests.

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