BANDON — Two ballot measures proposed by the City of Bandon were soundly approved by voters in Tuesday's special election.
Measure 6-179, asking for a sewer rate increase, passed with 872 "YES" votes (69.43%) and 384 "NO" votes (30.57%); total votes: 1,256
Measure 6-180, asking voters to approve a water rate increase, passed with 862 "YES" votes and 395 "NO" votes (31.42%); total votes: 1,257
"I was confident that Bandon voters would support their community if we did our job and provided them with the facts," said Bandon City Manager Dan Chandler after results were posted by Coos County Elections. "It is now our job to continue to show that we can be efficient, transparent and accountable stewards of the trust the public has given us."
The ballot measures asked voters to approve an increase of $8 per month for water and $7 per month for sewer for city residents. Residents living outside city limits will see an increase of $11 in their water rate and $11 in their sewer rate. The rate increase is permanent.
Bandon's water and sewer utilities must meet state and federal requirements for safe drinking water, Chandler explained. Currently, water and sewer rates don’t cover the full cost of operating those utilities. Water revenue is short by $218,000, and sewer revenue is short by $169,000, according to Chandler. The last rate increase for water operations was in 2006, sewer was in 2012.
An increase to the base water rate was approved in 2016. However, that increase can be used only for capital projects, not operations.
Chandler said the city's general fund can't cover the shortfalls. If general fund dollars are used to subsidize utilities, it will negatively impact public safety. The city's six-person police department accounts for 40% of general fund spending. Administration and the planning department also are both funded by the general fund.
The rate increases should put the water and sewer funds into a break-even position for the next few years, Chandler said.
Bandon has the lowest permanent tax rate of any city in Oregon that has a population of over 750 people, he added. The general fund also receives some lodging and utility taxes, but the amounts are limited.
The city is prohibited from raising rates without voter approval. In this election, the city did not ask for rate-setting authority, as it has in past failed ballot measures, but rather a specific increase for each utility.
Bandon resident Rob Taylor, founder of Coos County Watchdog, opposed the ballot measures.
"Most everyone wants clean water and the opposition to the ballot measures that increased the water and sewer fees had nothing to do with access to water," Taylor said. "It was an opposition to the misappropriation of the city’s budget."
"The vote does prove the city officials were wrong when they claimed the reason the city needed the rate-setting authority was because the voters would never give them an increase," Taylor added.
Mayor Mary Schamehorn, however, was thrilled with the margin of victory, saying it was a huge win for the city.
"I am elated with the vote, and I want to express my heartfelt appreciation for the majority of the voters who understood that the city could no longer continue to sell its water for less than it costs to produce," Schamehorn said.
"Even with the latest rate increase, we will continue to have the lowest utility rates in the county. I know this will be a hardship for many in our community, and I feel for those of you on a fixed income who will be most impacted. But had we been able to set our own rates, like most every other utility company in the country is able to do, our rates would be much higher today and in line with those of our neighboring communities."
"Again, I appreciate the support of those of you who took the time to vote and to support our ballot measures," Schamehorn said.