Coos Bay sewer.JPG

The future of Coos Bay's wastewater system has been a topic of city discussion for months.

Coos Bay residents will see a slight increase in their sewer bills at the start of the next fiscal year.

The city council May 4 approved a 5.5% increase to the city’s sewer rates, the same rate of increase as the previous year.

The change came after the city conducted a sewer rate study as a part of its annual budget process, and was approved by the city’s budget committee, according to City Finance Director Nichole Rutherford.

City Manager Rodger Craddock told councilors why the city’s rates are as high as they are and increase each year — typically around 6.5%.

“We are somewhat of a rare breed when it comes to wastewater,” Craddock said. “Most cities only have one treatment plant. Many cities have very few pump stations. That is not the case here.”

Craddock said the city has annual maintenance to the system it has to fund like repairs or replacements for two treatment plants, 26 pump stations and miles upon miles of pipes.

The city council also approved a contract for one of those repairs: an emergency replacement of the headworks system on the city’s west wastewater treatment plant.

That unexpected cost will run the city up to about $381,000 from the wastewater system’s emergency projects fund.

The headworks — the first part of the treatment plant which filters out the largest debris — no longer works without constant supervision, Public Works Director Jim Hossley told the council.

“The condition of the plant’s headworks, we found, was not very good. In fact, the headworks were not functioning properly at all,” Hossley said. “Our consulting engineers recommended immediate replacement of the headworks.”

The expense leaves around $4 million in the wastewater system’s emergency fund, Hossley said.

The council unanimously approved both the sewer rate increase and the emergency repair expenses.

Housing code changes move ahead

Also last week, the city’s planning commission reviewed a lengthy list of proposed technical changes to city development rules in an effort to streamline the process of building housing in the city.

At a joint meeting with the city council, planning commissioners recommended three ordinances to the council, which lay out the expansive changes. They’ve been in development since housing-related state legislation was enacted in 2019, according to city Community Development Administrator Carolyn Johnson.

“That particular bill direct agencies to provide Oregonians housing choices that people can afford, promote more housing types and update local rules to move housing barriers. The focus of this project has been precisely that,” Johnson told councilors and planning commissioners.

A lot of the proposed changes are technical ones: Simplifying language to make the development rules more readable and eliminating outdated references.

Some of the more substantive changes make it easier to develop property in the city, like reducing the procedural steps some permit applications must take to be approved.

Another change would incentivize building affordable housing with exceptions to certain height and density rules.

The changes don’t mean the city is building public housing, but making it easier for developers to build new housing, Mayor Joe Benetti said.

“This is just to allow more housing to be done,” Benetti said. “We’re talking about housing and trying to make it more accommodating, and be able to accommodate more housing per square foot or acreage.”

The city council will consider the three ordinances for final approval May 18.

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