Water rates are likely to go up by as much as 10 percent across the board for all Warrenton water customers in the near future.
After a presentation from consultant Raymond J. Bartlett at a work session Tuesday, members of the Warrenton City Commission agreed that an increase seems to be needed. Warrenton is facing the loss of its biggest customer, the city of Gearhart, which is developing its own water supply. City leaders are also considering more than $6 million in capital improvements for Warrenton's water system in fiscal year 2009-10.
A 10-percent rate hike would raise the monthly minimum bill, based on a household that uses 2,000 gallons of water a month, to $16.63, up $1.51 from the current $15.12 monthly charge. A family that uses 6,000 gallons per month currently pays $23.72. Their monthly bill would rise $2.39, to $26.11, with a 10-percent rate increase.
Bartlett, from the Vancouver, Wash.-based consulting firm Economic & Financial Analysis, said Warrenton water rates might need to continue going up by 10 percent each fiscal year for the next four years, depending on terms of an eventual water supply agreement with Gearhart and the pace of Warrenton's growth and development. Bartlett's analysis is based on growth of 0.5 percent per year, but he said Warrenton is actually growing much faster. As growth increases, the need for rate increases may go down, he said, and the city should tailor the rate increase to what the real circumstances are.
Mayor Gil Gramson and Commissioners Mark Kujala, Frank Orrell and Terry Ferguson all expressed regret at the need to raise water rates. But Gramson pointed out that the last time water rates went up was in 2003. "We definitely need a rate increase," Gramson said.
Commissioner Dick Hellberg was absent. No action can be taken at a work session, so any water rate increases will be considered at a regular meeting of the Commission, which meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month. The rate increase can be passed by resolution, and does not require a public hearing.
Warrenton residents will also be asked to dip into their wallets to continue funding an existing police officer position. During the regular meeting Tuesday that followed the work session, the Commission voted 4 to 0, with Hellberg absent, to put a five-year local option tax levy on the May 19 ballot. The cost to taxpayers is 28 cents per $1,000 assessed property valuation, or $56 per year for a $200,000 house. Over a five-year period the levy is expected to raise $529,164.
A similar levy, that would have funded an additional police officer as well as the existing position, went down to defeat in the November election. City Manager Bob Maxfield noted that the tax rate requested has dropped from 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation in November to 28 cents per $1,000 for the May 19 levy, thanks to the city's growth. The proceeds will pay the $100,000 a year cost of the officer, including salary, benefits, training and equipment.
"There's no question we have to move on this," Gramson said. "We were hoping there was some other way." Gramson said a ballot measure for fire equipment and a separate one for police equipment may come at a later date. And he reiterated that the fire department's training officer position will be permanently funded from the city's budget, rather than by a recurring property tax levy like the one that was defeated by voters last November.
In other business, the Commission:
? Set March 24 as the date for a public hearing to consider a petition by Warrenton Fiber Co. and John and David Nygaard asking the city to vacate portions of streets in an 18-acre area on the east side of U.S. Highway 101, south of Marlin Avenue, behind the Les Schwab tire store. The Nygaards are planning to build a large retail store on the property, but have not disclosed a possible tenant.
? Awarded a $17,900 contract to low bidder Northern Pacific Excavation to replace a tide gate at the Astoria Regional Airport that has failed. The work is considered an emergency. Commissioner Ferguson excused himself from the vote because of a conflict of interest, because he will be involved in replacing the tide gate. The vote was 3-0 in favor.
? Approved a request from Bill Berg and Sharon Anderson, of the city's parks advisory committee, to site a community vegetable garden at City Park near the Head Start program's building.
? Approved a $13,416 contract with Western Oregon Waste to provide recycling promotion and education service required by the state Department of Environmental Quality.
? Agreed to send a letter of support for Lektro Inc., which is asking Congress to continue funding the U.S. Department of Defense's testing and use of the airplane towing vehicles it manufactures at its plant in Warrenton, where it employs 70 people.
? The Commission also heard an update from David Szymanski, superintendent of Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, Fort Clatsop, on progress toward creating a Columbia Pacific National Heritage Area. "My feeling is this area has as strong a possibility of being designated a National Heritage Area as any area (in the country)," he said.
According to the National Park Service's Web site, "National Heritage Areas expand on traditional approaches to conservation by supporting large-scale, community-centered initiatives that engage citizens in the preservation and planning process. Committed to protecting and promoting the cultural, historical and natural assets of a region, National Heritage Areas play a vital role in maintaining both the physical character and the cultural legacy of the United States."
Szymanski said there are 40 National Historic Areas in the United States and 63 million people live in them. He said from February through April, the National Park Service will be reaching out to the community with presentations like the one he gave Tuesday. Formal public meetings will be scheduled in April, he said, and after that the results will be taken to decision-makers in Washington, D.C.