City council addresses budget, pump house concerns; Tapiola Playground groundbreaking setAstoria customers will pay more for water and sewer service, starting immediately.

At Monday's regular meeting, the Astoria City Council unanimously approved an 8 percent increase in water rates, a 6 percent increase in sewer rates, and a 4 percent increase in the Combined Sewer Overflow surcharge, bringing the total surcharge to 15 percent.

The rate hikes mean the average Astoria household will pay $49.91 per month, up $4.03 from the current $45.88 monthly charge. Bills are sent out every two months.

The changes are based on a rate study by Financial Consulting Services Group. Councilor Blair Henningsgaard said he would like to see how the consultants' projections measure up to costs. Mayor Willis Van Dusen agreed, and directed city staff to find out.

The council held a public hearing on Astoria's budget for fiscal year 2005-06, which will be considered for approval at the June 20 meeting. During comments from citizens, Don Webb urged the council to raise fees at the Aquatic Center to offset the cost of operating it. It will receive at $220,000 subsidy in the coming fiscal year.

"If it keeps increasing, we never will get that hole filled up," Webb said. He also criticized the city's Municipal Court budget, saying the council should "straighten that department out," but Henningsgaard said the court actually had higher revenues than expected this year and is doing very well.

Neighbors in the vicinity of the Skyline pump station building are still upset about the appearance and location of the concrete block pump house, which was built too close to Skyline Avenue. A measurement error by the city's engineering staff resulted in the building being placed eight feet closer to the street than was called for in its design.

Jim Forrester, who lives across the street from the pump house, brought the matter to the council's attention at a previous meeting, and appeared again Monday. In response to his concerns, public works staff prepared a plan to relocate the building to the rear of a new ground-level water tank that will be installed to replace the old elevated tank. The redesigned building would also be 25-percent smaller and would be made of wood, not concrete blocks. However, staff proposes to leave in place the pipes and valves already installed. Public Works Director Mitch Mitchum said he thinks the pipes can be buried, and the bank graded to hide them.

Forrester and another neighbor, Kevin Dunn, both spoke to the council about their continuing concerns. Forrester was especially adamant that the city not be allowed to get a variance from the building code to allow the pump house to remain where it is, saying "many people are upset, especially contractors." That option has been rejected by the council.

The mayor directed city staff to hold a meeting with neighbors to obtain their opinions on the design and location of a new pump house before the project goes forward. No construction work can be done until August, because eagles are nesting in the vicinity of the water tank.

The council heard a presentation from Wendy Berezay, coordinator of the Tapiola Playground Project. She showed the council a drawing of the playground and its components and invited them to the groundbreaking 6 p.m. Monday.

"It's a huge event for our town," Mayor Van Dusen said. "I'll definitely be there." The playground is to be built the week of June 20 by volunteers, and opened to the public June 29. Supporters raised $200,000 in grants and donations to pay for it. Berezay received two rounds of applause for her efforts.

Rock for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' project to repair the north Columbia River jetty, west of Ilwaco, Wash., will be hauled along Washington Highway 4 from a quarry near Cathlamet, Wash., rather than along U.S. Highway 30 on the Oregon side of the river. The information was presented to the council on the consent calendar in a memo from Mitchum.

Additional rock from Ken Kauppi's quarry near Youngs River Falls may also be used. Rock coming from that quarry would travel on Highway 202 (West Marine Drive) through the Astoria Roundabout and across the Astoria Bridge. The number of roundtrips per day, from mid-June through September is expected to range from 20 to 49. Under the new arrangement, no rock trucks will travel on U.S. Highway 30 or pass through downtown Astoria. However, the arrangement is subject to change by the Corps' project manager.

In other action, the council:

• postponed a request for water disinfection system design proposals at the city's reservoir;

• approved a request to budget the finance department's administrative assistant position as a full-time position, an increase of 0.3 personnel. The position is open because of Alice Wood's recent early retirement.

• directed City Manager Dan Bartlett to continue working with the Sunday Market board to improve their policies on free expression.

After the regular meeting, the council convened as the Astoria Development Commission.

The commission:

• held public hearings on the Astor West and Astor East urban renewal district budgets, which will be considered for adoption at the June 20 meeting;

• approved a request from Dr. Sonny Park for the city to relocate a city sewer line that interferes with his planned addition to the Park Medical Clinic, and will take competitive proposals for the work, estimated to cost about $25,000;

• approved LDC Design Group of Hillsboro to design a downtown streetscape project for sections of Commercial Street and 14th Street;

• approved Moore Iacofano Goltsman of Portland to revise the Astor East Urban Renewal District plan for the area of 20th to 22nd streets, north of Marine Drive.

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