Newport City Councilors will be a most unhappy group of folks Monday night as they consider a dramatic series of rate increases for anyone with a water meter on their residence. Rate increases of 15% for water, 20% for sewer, 5% for operations and maintenance and a first-ever storm water charge of $6.80 a month will be on the table for discussion and action.
The move comes after it was reported by City Public Works Director Tim Gross that the city’s sewer and storm water systems are old and need replacing as well as expanded. The city’s water distribution system is frail and failing, says Gross, and also must be expanded with a new water line along SE 101 from 40th to 50th Streets, an upper Big Creek Lake Syphon, and a major new water tank for Agate Beach. However the Agate Beach Tank and 40th to 50th street boring projects will be funded largely by fund transfers and higher system development fees charged to new building projects. The new tank is currently under design and its construction will begin in the near future. The city’s brand new water treatment plant is nearing completion and will be brought on line also in the near future with higher quality water than ever before.
Gross contends that Newport’s water, sewer and storm drain distribution systems are no different than in cities and county’s around Oregon, if not the country. He said there are water and sewer lines crumbling from one end of town to the other, and they’re fixing them from one end of town to the other. Gross says they’re repairing them with money that should be going to replacing them – not just fixing them only to see them fail somewhere else along the line.
Gross says Newport must begin replacing all this to the tune of $3 million a year. Gross claims the city needs to replace up to a mile and a half of pipe every year for the foreseeable future. He says a 50 to 60 year replacement cycle is about what it works out to. He says that is the life cycle of underground pipes in rainy, high groundwater coastal Oregon.
Gross informed the city council that these stiff rate increases may not have to be the only source of revenue for such an ambitious ongoing project. There could be low interest loans, federal and state grants, or special funding arrangements not yet contemplated, that might eventually kick in. If they do, then rate hikes could be leveled off or even reduced and still get the job done. But he lamented “that’s not happening yet. There’s very little financial help out there.” But he says, something has to be done and done now. Gross says Newport’s utility line problems are getting so bad that he can’t guarantee that the town’s fire hydrants will be able to deliver sufficient water if a bigger-than-average building fire broke out. He also points out that cities and counties can no longer allow aging sewer systems to allow raw sewage to pour into our local bays and rivers and onto our beaches. Gross says fines for that sort of thing are are going to be very high after looming tighter discharge restrictions take effect.
If agreed to by the city council, here’s how the new water, sewer and storm drain rates could look like starting July 1st. For a 3/4″ inch water line to a home it would be $16.45 a month for the first thousand gallons with a $3 surcharge per thousand gallons after that. For those outside the city, the rate would be $31.40 plus $4.95 per thousand gallons after the first thousand. For a 1″ water feed in town, $22.60 for the first thousand gallons, then $3 per thousand after that. For a one 1″ water feed outside the city, it’s $42.75 a month for the first thousand gallons, and $4.95 per thousand gallons after that. For a 2″ water feed for inside the city it would be $56.95 for the first thousand gallons, then $3 per thousand gallons after that. Outside the city for a 2″ line the base rate would be $104.75 for the first thousand gallons and $4.95 for each thousand gallons after that.
On the sewer side, for a single family home the new rate would rise to $18.45 base service, with a charge of $5.30 per thousand gallons. For multi-family buildings and commercial businesses, it would be $18.45 for the basic service and $6.05 per thousand gallons. Those who bring their sewage to a dump station, the rate will be 30-cents a gallon.
On top of all that is a 5% increase in the city’s operations and maintenance fee. So, for a 3/4″ water line it’s $5.95/month. For a 1″ line it’s $11.90/month, for a 2″ line it’s $41.75/month and for a big 5″ water line it’s $381.55/month.
Gross is proposing (after long discussions and a number of public hearings) that a monthly storm water fee of $6.80 per month be levied on any dwelling or business with a water meter. During the last city council meeting the frequently mentioned allegation was made again that small home owners should not be subsidizing the Walmarts of the town that have much bigger paved areas than homeowners do. Gross and the city council responded that a lot size and percent of impervious surfaces is an over-complicated analytical tool for figuring out who pays how much for storm drains. They say that the overwhelming amount of storm water comes from city streets and highways which everyone in town uses whether going to and from work, for the delivery of goods and services to homes and businesses, public transit, bus transportation for school children, recreation or a host of other reasons people drive or ride about town. He said the extra storm water from big box stores with large parking lots is literally a drop in the bucket compared to the public’s road surfaces. That observation will likely be heard yet again Monday night during the council meeting
A number of residents are also expected to testify Monday night that they just don’t have the money, and won’t have the money, for what will soon be, within five years, the doubling (or more) of their water, sewer and storm water bills. During the last council meeting it was discussed that the city might set up a separate fund for those who qualify for assistance from other citizens willing to pay a little extra on their own bills so that low income residents can get a discount.
All this gets underway Monday night at Newport City Hall, beginning at 7pm. That’s the exact time set for the agenda item dealing with the rate increases.