Warrenton - The Warrenton City Commission approved a $41.5 million budget for fiscal year 2005-06 at its regular meeting Tuesday on a 4-to-0 vote. Commissioner Dick Hellberg was absent.

Mayor Gil Gramson emphasized that it was not necessary to raise water rates to balance the budget, even though a rate study by outside consultants had recommended continuing increases to pay debt service on the city's $8 million water filtration plant, which went on line in 2002. He said another rate study will be undertaken. He also said the city will set aside more than $1 million in its capital reserve fund.

City Manager Ed Madere said sewer rates will remain the same in the coming year, despite a new sewage plant, which will cost an estimated $12 to $14 million. A $10 million bond measure to pay for it failed last month because the turnout was too low. Madere said he anticipates the sewer bond will be put on the ballot again, and the results of that election will determine whether property taxes or sewer rates will fund sewer improvements.

Madere pointed out that although the property tax rate will go up 3 percent in the new budget, it will still be among the lowest in the area. And he said the city is looking for additional revenue sources, such as special development charges. The commission also approved a $37,000 road district budget.

Tuesday's meeting was the last for Patrick Wingard, the city's planning director, who has accepted a position in the Clatsop County Planning Department. The commissioners and several members of the public praised Wingard's accomplishments while in Warrenton. Some expressed concern that the position has not yet been advertised.

"The city of Warrenton's loss will certainly be the county's gain," said former mayor Barbara Balensifer. She challenged the commission to find another planning director "with a heart for the community."

Gramson said it could take three to four months to find a new planning director, and the process will soon get under way. He said Madere has advised using outside consultants for big projects like LNG proposals, but the city still needs a full-time planning director.

The commission accepted an $11,811 grant to the fire department from Weyerhaeuser Company Foundation. Fire Chief Ted Ames said he had been approached by Dale Williams, manager of Weyerhaeuser's Warrenton Lumber Mill, who asked how the foundation could help. Ames suggested new self-contained breathing apparatus units. The grant will pay for three of them, to supplement the 20 units purchased recently with a grant from the federal Department of Homeland Security.

In other business, the commission held public hearings on two comprehensive plan amendment applications, and approved both of them. The first application was from Balensifer and others to rezone several acres in the 1700 block of Northwest Warrenton Drive from industrial to residential. The change will affect seven existing homes. The main effect will be to allow those homeowners to rebuild if their houses are destroyed by fire, which will make it easier for them to eventually sell their property. The second paved the way for development of the Willener property along Ridge Road.

The mayor read a proclamation honoring Delores Hodney, a Methodist pastor leaving the community after 11 years. Hodney received a round of applause. "Warrenton will always be my home," Hodney said. "No matter where I am, my heart will always be with you."

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