Cannon Beach residents will see their water rates go up 16 percent in March.
The Cannon Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve raising water and wastewater rates to help fund repairs to an aging system. The average residential water bill will go from about $47.81 to $55.68 – about an $8 increase a month.
The increase will raise about $434,000 in revenue for capital projects next year.
The decision comes nearly a year after former Public Works Director Dan Grassick proposed a 40 percent rate increase to fund half of all of the projects listed in the water and wastewater master plans – documents that recommend capital projects the city should address for the next 20 years. Between residents taking issue with the sudden increase, and members of the public works committee raising concerns with certain aspects of the master plans, the city decided to table the rate increases.
The public works committee spent six months reevaluating different rate structures and phase-in options. The committee ultimately recommended financing only half of all projects. The pay structure would have increased rates by 50 percent over five years and generated $2.1 million and $1.6 million for improvements to sewer lines, water storage tanks and other infrastructure.
But city councilors worried that without full funding from rates, the system would not be maintained and would eventually depreciate. Lingering questions about whether or not the plans should be fully funded by rates alone led city councilors to only approve the first year of increases with a commitment to re-evaluate in a year.
“When you do a 20-year masterplan, it’s something you’ll be constantly modifying and evaluating. We’re trying to anticipate what’s going to happen, but approving these plans doesn’t commit us to any single project,” said City Manager Bruce St. Denis. “Each year we will evaluate what needs to be done, and any project will be vetted and ran through the budget process.”
Part of what stalled this decision was concerns public works committee members had with how the water and wastewater plans were created. Committee member Les Wierson, who has been involved with city public works in some capacity for 60 years, has long disagreed with what projects were listed as priorities.
While he agrees with the need to increase rates to finance needed repairs, he said certain items in the plans, like land acquisition and rebuilding reservoirs, shouldn’t be factored in to be paid for by rates, but should voted on through bonds.
“Our new city manager and our soon-to-be new public works director should be given more time to consider it, because it will have an impact on rate payers for the next 10 years, especially on fixed incomes,” Wierson said in the meeting.
Councilor Mike Benefield argued that the plan is a living document, and provides context for how different projects interconnect.
“This plans also says we need to look at long term financing rather than being surprised a couple of years down the road when something fails,” Benefield said. “Each one of our public works directors has had to start from scratch. This provides continuity.”
Sharing the burden
The question of how much residents should pay for repairs on a system that is disproportionately large for a community of 1,700 to serve the influx of tourists continues to be raised by both city councilors and citizens.
Jeremy Clifford, owner of Voyages Toy Co., argued tourists should contribute more to subsidizing the costs of water infrastructure improvements before raising rates.
“We have 1,600 people living in Cannon Beach, but we have 500,000 people visiting every year, Clearly 500,000 people use significantly more Cannon Beach water than the 1,600 citizens,” he wrote in a letter to the city. “Therefore, it is illogical to force the citizens and the businesses in Cannon Beach to pay for the entirety of the water infrastructure costs when the majority of the wear and tear is coming from tourists.”
Clifford suggested the city consider a food and beverage tax similar to the City of Ashland, which uses the revenue to fund water infrastructure and parks. He also suggested picking one of the city’s parking lots and metering it for day use.
“If only 10 percent of tourists paid $5 to park all day, the city would generate $250,000 in parking revenue. Use that revenue to fund your city water issues,” he said.
Others, like Mike Manzulli of the Ecola Creek Watershed Council, supported the increase to fix what he said has long been a culprit in high bacteria readings at outfalls that drain onto the beach. A section in the water and wastewater master plan highlighted 40 different locations where sewer pump stations and pipelines had leaks that could be contributing to high bacteria readings at places like the Gower Street and Chisana Creek outfalls.
“The public health issues surrounding these leaks in the Chisana and Gower Basins demand immediate attention and high prioritization,” he continued.
What projects will be financed with the new revenue will be decided during the budget process this spring, St. Denis said.