In the continuing saga of ever higher utility rates in Newport (and many other Oregon cities) there is a proposal before the city council to raise them again – in fact the second year in a row on a trek to five increases in as many years; 15% boost effective July 1st for sewer and water, a five percent increase in storm water fees and a five percent increase for infrastructure like streets and other capital projects.
The idea makes a lot of residents mad and they said as much to the city council Monday night. Although the council took no action on the issue, the residents made it clear that the economy has been sputtering for nearly five years, other living costs have gone up and continue to rise, those on disability or on fixed incomes are already painfully squeezed, and that although former Newport utility ratepayers may have not had a rate increase in decades, the effects of that neglect is real and that something must be done about if people expect their toilets to flush, their showers to work and the city’s storm drain system to not cause boil ups and sink holes.
Public Works Director Tim Gross has said in the past that the town’s water and sewer lines are almost too old to fix and that the town could run up a big repair bill over the next ten years and still have largely a 75 year old system still rotting in the ground.
Residents testifying before the council didn’t seem to disagree with that assessment but said they don’t have the money or that the town should find grants or low interest loans that could be paid off over more time. Or try to get the voters to give a thumbs up on a city wide property tax hike that would soften the blow.
The council certainly expected to hear such protests and sympathized greatly with the plight of those who told their stories. Gross said the city could set up a program to determine who really can’t afford such rate hikes and create a two level system – one discounted because of disabilities or struggling to make it on social security, the other for the rest of the townspeople.
Gross says he expects to be able to find grants during years four and five that may soften the load but that no one should absolutely count on it.
The council ordered the issue be discussed by the city’s budget committee made up of city councilors and citizens at large, some with budgetary and financial expertise. The budget committee meets again Tuesday night May 7th, 6pm, at city council chambers at city hall.