GEARHART — Water rates in Gearhart may be reduced by 20 percent in the next few months.

Efficiencies in the city’s new water system, combined with a 25-percent drop in rates for water supplied to Gearhart by Warrenton, could make the reduction possible, City Administrator Chad Sweet told the City Council Wednesday night. Warrenton still supplies about one-third of the water going to Gearhart users.

Altogether, the savings for ratepayers inside and outside the city could amount to $95,371, but the actual effect on the city’s budget would be $35,000.

The council asked Sweet to do more research and to bring an ordinance with a proposed reduced rate to the November meeting. A public hearing also will be conducted before the council decides how much the reduction will be and what portion of the water bill it will apply to.

Most of the 1,363 Gearhart water users pay $48.96 every two months for a minimum of 7,498 gallons of water. With a 20 percent reduction, about $9.79 would be lopped off the bill.

Those who use more than the minimum pay an overage rate of $6 per 748 gallons. The council debated whether the 20 percent reduction should also apply to this charge as well.

Councilor Dan Jesse said he “highly disagreed” with Sweet’s recommendation to limit the reduction to only the minimum rate and suggested that the overall reduction be less than 20 percent, but be spread over both rates.

However, Councilor Al Carder noted that, when the city sought voter approval of the $11 million bond measure to build the city’s water system, water users were promised a reduction in their rates. The 20-percent reduction in the minimum usage would keep that promise, he said, and the city wouldn’t have to undergo a full rate study to determine if it could afford to apply the reduction to the overage rate as well.

Councilor Sue Lorain said she thought most ratepayers would be “thrilled to death” with the 20-percent cut on the minimum use charge.

“I would be so happy with a 20 percent reduction on the basic rate instead of a teeny weeny (across-the-board) thing. That would be laughable,” she said.

Other councilors, including Dianne Widdop, suggested that, by maintaining the current $6 overage rate, customers might be encouraged to reduce their water use.

Garbage pick-up

The council also debated whether the city should require property owners to sign up for monthly garbage collection service.

In response to complaints about overflowing garbage cans sitting on roadsides for several weeks and those using vacation rentals illegally using city dumpsters to deposit their trash, the council has been discussing mandatory garbage service for several months. Although Widdop, Carder, Jesse and Lorain agree that garbage service should be required, Councilor Joy Sigler said she preferred educating homeowners about the need to pick up their garbage instead of requiring them to do it.

“I don’t want to be told what size of garbage can I need or how often it should be picked up,” said Sigler, who suggested that the issue be discussed on the city’s blog and in the Gearhart Homeowners Association newsletter.

“We need to define the problem, isolate the problem and find a nonordinance way to solve the problem and educate people,” Sigler said.

Lorain agreed that more education on options for disposing of trash was needed.

Carder said full-time residents aren’t causing the problem.

“I’m not concerned with the residents,” he said. “It’s the absentee owners – that’s where the problem is.”

The council asked Sweet to look at garbage collection rates being charged to Gearhart residents, to check out the garbage collection ordinances of Astoria and surrounding cities and to return to the council with that information.

Support for tribes

A letter of support for federal recognition of the Clatsop-Nehalem tribes was approved by the council. The tribes were terminated in 1954, along with other tribes in Oregon, by the federal Western Termination Act.

Dick and Roberta Basch said fewer than 200 members of the tribes still live in the area, but they have adopted a new tribal constitution and elected an interim council. Once tribal recognition is regained through a bill to be introduced to Congress during this session, the tribes will work on an economic development plan. However, Dick Basch said, the tribes do not intend to bring casinos to the area.

“We all love this area for what it is,” Dick Basch said. “We made a decision as a tribal council not to have casinos. We should be able to develop an economic plan with the number of people (visitors) we already have here.”

Federal recognition also would bring money to the area for education of tribal members, health care and housing, noted Roberta Basch.

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