Bandon Government and Politics STOCK

BANDON - The Bandon Utilities Commission is asking the City Council to institute one-year emergency rate increases to continue to operate and maintain both the water and sewage treatment plants. 

Matt Winkel, former Bandon City Manager and now Utilities Commission chairman, reported at the May 6 council meeting that the increases are needed due to budget shortfalls.

The shortfalls were discovered during this year's budget process. In order to generate sufficient revenues to cover operation and maintenance expenses in the water and sewer systems, the council needs to address an approximate $200,000 deficit in the water fund and a $198,000 deficit in the sewer fund. 

The shortfalls could be addressed by an approximately 21 percent water rate increase and a 28 percent sewer rate increase, Winkel said. Based on the basic city water bill, which provides 2,000 gallons of water a month, an average customer's bill would go up approximately $11.30 a month. The total bill, with the increase, would be approximately $57.52 per month.

By comparison, for an average use of 2,000 gallons per month, Myrtle Point customers pay $70 a month, Powers, $77 a month, Coos Bay, $72, Port Orford, $83 a month, Brookings, $100 a month, and Coquille, $124 a month. 

The emergency rate increase is needed, officials said, because the city is bound by a charter amendment that passed more than 20 years ago prohibiting the City Council from increasing rates without voter approval. The city has asked voters several times to reverse that decision to no avail. 

The emergency rate increase can be enacted without voter approval, according to city officials. In order to protect citizens by providing for an adequate supply of water and to ensure safe sewage treatment, the council can declare an emergency and increase the rates. 

The Utilities Commission recommends the increases become effective July 1.

"We're on the edge of a significant problem that could become a crisis," Winkel told the council. "Flint, Michigan, is an example. We don't want boil water alerts, or sewage plant discharges into the bay where people fish and crab. These would be disastrous to our community."

A $10 water rate increase was approved by voters in November 2016. That increase generates approximately $308,500 per year and is dedicated for capital improvements. Monies from that fund cannot be used for operating and maintenance expenses. 

While the city has undertaken several capital improvements to the water plant from the additional funds, there are many other capital improvements that need to be done to both the sewage treatment gplant and to the water plant. 

The commission recommends the city spend money this fiscal year from the water fund and from system development funds on seismic protection valves, repainting and corrosion repair on the water storage tanks, and for emergency back-up generators for the water treatment plant.

However, there is no money to pay for repairs needed at the sewage treatment plant, which is 20 years old. Those repairs, which also need to be done this coming fiscal year, include headworks upgrades, replacement of the Fillmore Avenue pump station, ultraviolet system improvements, and inflow and infiltration studies. 

To address the capital improvements needed for the sewage treatment plant, the commission recommends the council ask voters to approve a $3.8 million general obligation bond in the Nov. 5 election, which would cost voters 79 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

One final recommendation was to ask voters in the Nov. 5 election to give the council back its rate-setting authority.

The commission asked that the issue be put on the June 3 City Council agenda for discussion and action. 

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Bandon Western World Editor Amy Moss Strong can be reached at 541-347-2423, ext. 305, or by email at amy.moss-strong@theworldlink.com. Follow Bandon Western World on Facebook.