Residents will get another chance to voice their opinions on a new fee on water customers as the city works through the details.
The fee intended to raise money for Astoria’s struggling Parks and Recreation Department is on the agenda again for Monday night’s City Council meeting.
The monthly $3 per water meter fee would raise an estimated $117,000 a year — money some councilors hope could help rebuild a department that has had to slash programs this year. The city continues to search for ways to sustain its roster of programs, the Astoria Aquatic Center, and numerous parks and rebuild a bare-bones parks staff.
City councilors are not expected to vote on the fee Monday.
City staff is still figuring out how to go about imposing such a fee. They need more time to determine how the fee would be billed through the city’s financial software, Angela Cosby, the parks director, wrote in a memo to the council. She said they will also need more time to make sure that the way the fee is described and collected lines up with language that already exists in city code. Customers receive water bills every two months. It is likely the $3 fee would be charged in similar fashion and would show up as a $6 addition on consumers’ bills.
Even though city staff are not ready for the City Council to vote on whether or not to implement the fee, Mayor Arline LaMear asked that the item remain on the agenda for Monday. She wanted to give residents a chance to voice their opinions as well as allow councilors another opportunity to discuss the fee and ask questions.
The city is also looking into raising the lodging tax. A portion of the revenue this tax increase would raise can be put towards parks, but it could be some time before the city would see the money, compared to the fee on water customers, City Manager Brett Estes said.
City Councilor Cindy Price has championed the fee for parks, saying it is one way the city could quickly raise money for parks and begin building a base to sustain the parks department into the future. Between the fee and the tax increase, visitors and residents together would help shoulder the financial burden of the parks department, Price said.
City councilors have indicated the fee will only apply to residential water customers, to avoid double-charging someone who may both live and own a business in Astoria. The fee, as proposed, would not address multiple households that might use the same meter.
At the City Council’s last meeting earlier this month, Price and other councilors suggested the fee include an expiration date, at which point the council could review it, make changes, renew it or do away with it entirely. According to City Attorney Blair Henningsgaard, the council usually reviews fees annually anyway.
City Councilor Zetty Nemlowill argued against the fee at that meeting, saying she didn’t see how a water meter fee directly related to the parks department and park users.