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Toledo City Council hopes Siletz water intake can be relocated for better water. But it’s going to cost the town some tall dollars for that and other upgrades.


Toledo’s water intake from lower left to upper right

The Toledo City Council is keeping its fingers crossed that its aging public water intake system on the Siletz River, at the photo’s lower left, will last long enough to be recreated just down stream at a location in the upper right. It’s the town’s main source of water since Mill Creek Reservoir is tricky to operate and the city doesn’t like to rely on it because to upgrade it would be very expensive.

The city council was reminded that Toledo is about to issue bonds to pay for the reconstruction of the city’s water intake as well as for improvements to the pipe between there and the city’s water treatment plant. City Public Works Director Adam Denlinger says the current intake location is becoming somewhat perilous in that the riverbank appears to be moving, and because of that they’ve got emergency parts and supplies at the ready if something changes the local topography. Denlinger told the council the city is in negotiations with the owner of the property just downstream where they want to relocate the intake pipe. He says talks are going well. He said if the city floats the bonds as anticipated and city water rates are sufficient to pay off the bonds, the new water intake system could be in place and pumping water to Toledo within three years. However, water rates were determined to be too low, despite a recent rate increase, to pay off the bonds necessary to finance the project. It turned out that ratepayers simply used less water which caused the city to miss their financial target.

To complicate the discussions further Denlinger said the town’s sewer system has been leaking like a sieve for years, with storm water getting into the main sewer lines. He said it’s forcing the sewer plant to process far more than just raw sewage; it’s also processing millions of gallons of storm and ground water that is getting into the system through aging bad joints and broken pipes. He said this greatly adds to the cost of operating the sewer system. And it’s wasting a lot of money.

To prevent this storm and ground water intrusion into the sewer system, it’s going require new pipe and other equipment. And that’s going to cost a lot of money too, according to Denlinger.

The city council swallowed hard.

The council agreed that if the town is to have reliable sewer and water service, the town will have to pay for decades of neglect that have now come due. The council tentatively agreed to rate hike for water and a new rate hike for sewer. The council said if they don’t raise rates the town can’t sell the bonds. City manager Michelle Amberg told the council there must be enough revenue to pay them off and to have a mandatory level of reserve funds in case a financial emergency of some kind befalls the town. It all figures into the interest rate the city will have to pay for the loan (bond).

The cold hard facts.

The combined sewer and water bill for a typical Toledo family will rise June 1st to an average of $74.05, roughly a 22% increase. That’s what the city council Tuesday night tentatively agreed to. The actual decision is likely to come at their next city council meeting April 18th.

Public Works Director Adam Denlinger offered the council a bit of solace as he told them that these higher rates will put the city at a level that will improve Toledo’s access to future federal and state grants or low interest loans. He said such grants or loans will lesson future rate hikes. He said because previous generations of Toledo residents did not pay for system upgrades they never had to raise rates very much.

And because of Toledo’s “artificially low rates,” federal and state agencies would not consider grants or loans for Toledo. The agencies have continually demanded that the city’s water and sewer rates be brought up to the state average for cities the size of Toledo. Denlinger said, with this next round of increases, coupled with higher system development charges and other revenues, Toledo will finally be in a better position to expect that future upgrades (and there will be required upgrades) will be eligible for those grants or very low interest loans. But again, the rate hikes must come first.

Seal Rock residents are also served by the Toledo water system. Both communities are tied at the wallet on system upgrades and so must negotiate the financial contributions that Seal Rock customers will provide to the water portion of the river intake and water treatment process. Toledo City Manager Michelle Amberg tells NLC.com that Seal Rock’s recent bond election covered Seal Rock’s obligation for their portion of the water intake and pipe to town upgrades.

The Toledo City Council takes up the matter again on April 18th. More information on all this is available on the city’s website by clicking here and clicking here.

Newport City Council learns that city sewer, water and storm drain repairs and upgrades aren’t cheap – higher rates on the near horizon.


Tim Gross delivering a “multiple-dose” to the city council
Click photo to enlarge

With City Finance Director Dave Marshall at his side Monday night, Newport Public Works Director Tim Gross laid out some tough medicine to swallow. Gross told the city council that Newport’s underground plumbing for sewer, water and storm drains are largely decades upon decades old, and that much of it must be replaced along with the construction of new projects like water tanks, new pump stations and a back up water line to South Beach from the Newport side of the bay.

Gross said he would prefer to see the city council take a pro-active approach with a steady annual rise in sewer and water rates along with the implementation of a first-ever storm drain fee. Gross was quick to add that the amount of those increases will depend on what portion of the total tab city ratepayers would have to contribute after federal and state grants are added to the mix along with fees levied on new private and public sector development that comes along. But he also told the council that however the money raised, it must represent an annual bump-up in revenues of 15 to 20% a year if the town is to replace its aging (and in some instances decrepit) sewer and water distribution systems under streets, yards, businesses and homes. Gross said 90% of the town’s utility pipes were installed between 1910 and 1960 and that Newport cannot go on living on borrowed time.

The council thanked Gross for his “tell-it-like-it-is” approach and admitted that it’s time the city faced up to the challenges of upgrading the town’s utility systems. Mayor Mark McConnell said he expects Gross and Finance Director Dave Marshall to begin showing those added revenues in the current budget plan for 2012-13 and for five years out. The trick, Gross re-emphacized, will be in maximizing outside grants and revenues from new development while minimizing the burden on current ratepayers.

Toledo gets a glimpse of where water rates are probably headed. And it’s not pretty.

Top picture, Leaky 1938 main water tank, #2, Red/Yellow dots: Problem areas, #3, Undercut water intake, Siletz, #4, Temp repairs to intake.

There has been, for many months, a long parade of pictures laid before Toledo residents of failed water pipes, broken mains, leaking tanks and water intakes. For the past few months the city council has been swallowing hard on prospects of raising water rates that they claim must go even higher if the town is to have reliable water service.

The city council received a preliminary report Wednesday night from Public Works Director Adam Denlinger that outlines water system improvements that Toledo and Seal Rock customers must pay in order to restore that reliability because, right now, Denlinger says it could fail at any time. Nearly a half-century of low to no water rate increases meant little or no maintenance was done on the system for all those years. In effect, they were living off the investment their grandparents had made for the system that today is now decayed and falling apart. The repair bill: $19 million, $7 million of it charged to Seal Rock customers.

Denlinger and City Manager Michelle Amberg have been working with a bond broker that has developed a water system improvement bond sale program and helped set new water rates to pay for it. Revenue bonds to pay for Phase 1 and 2 would require a water rate increase from the current $32.24/mo. to $58.67/mo. If the city council decides to do the entire water system at once, it would require a rate increase to $67.06/mo.

Acknowledging the sorry state of Toledo’s water system, City Councilor Mark Camara lamented, “I see no way around these costs. So there’s no way around the rate increases.” Mayor Monica Lyons said “I know this is going to hurt people. But we just have to do it. My water bill is going to go from $100 a month to over $200 a month.” Lyons and others have often said the town simply kicked the maintenance “can” down the road for too many years, and so now, in the midst of a terrible recession, they have to face a huge repair bill.

Councilors said they will hold a public hearing on all this at their next city council meeting September 7th. Councilors appear headed into that meeting to make the case for system improvements, hear complaints on the cost, say they’re sorry, but raise the rates none-the-less because reliably safe water is mandated by law. It’s been said many times by city officials that it’s time to “pay the piper” for years of neglect that must be made up in a short amount of time, despite the bad economy.

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