Warrenton - Voters are getting a second chance to decide whether to pay for a new wastewater treatment plant with higher property taxes or through steep increases in utility rates.

A bond measure not to exceed $10 million is on the May 16 mail-in ballot.

The measure would help pay for the treatment plant and related improvements to the city's sewage collection, treatment and disposal system, including major improvements to a crucial pump station, an expanded sewer lagoon system and a new outfall facility. Cost of the entire project is expected to total approximately $13 million. Building the treatment plant, which is slated for completion by the end of June, was required by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

By state law, this measure may be passed only at an election with at least a 50-percent voter turnout. The bond would be paid back through property taxes over a period of 20 years.

The same measure failed in 2005, even though it was favored 578 to 418 by voters who cast ballots, because fewer than half of Warrenton's registered voters participated in that election. Warrenton has 2,634 registered voters.

Mayor Gil Gramson said he's optimistic that the measure will pass this time.

"The voters that voted (last time) expressed a very strong preference for a property tax bond measure. The only thing lacking was a majority voting. It's very important to have enough people vote," Gramson said. Paying for the sewage improvements through property taxes rather than higher utility rates makes better financial sense for Warrenton property owners who itemize deductions on their tax returns, Gramson added, citing a 2002 analysis done for the city by Financial Consulting Solutions Group Inc.

If the measure passes, the tax levy rate would be approximately $1.89 per $1,000 of assessed property value, according to Laurie Sawrey, Warrenton's finance director.

That works out to an additional $283.50 in property taxes per year for the owner of a $150,000 home, or $378 for the owner of a $200,000 home. If the rate remained the same each year, the amount of property tax paid would increase as the value of the home increased. However, if Warrenton's growth continues as anticipated, the city's total value will go up, and the property tax rate to pay off the bond would decrease.

If the bond measure fails, the wastewater plant and sewage system improvements would have to be paid for by an estimated 25 percent to 40 percent hike in utility rates for all customers, commercial and residential. The current residential sewer fee is a minimum of $37.56 per month. It would go up to $46.49 per month with a 25-percent rate increase or to $52.58 per month with a 40- percent increase, Sawrey calculated.

However, Gramson said if the measure fails May 16, the City Commission will take another look at how to finance the waste-water treatment plant and sewage system improvements before taking any immediate action. He said placing the bond measure on the ballot again in the Nov. 7 general election (when the double majority requirement is not in effect) would be a strong possibility if it fails this time.

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