COOS BAY — The Coos Bay City Council voted unanimously this week to raise the sewer rate by 5.5% within the city.
The rate will increase sewer bills by about $3.77 per month. The decision was made on Tuesday during the regular council meeting.
Coos Bay sewer rates are among the highest on the coast. According to city documents, the average family sewer rate in the city was $68.45 per month last year. The approved increase will raise that average rate to $72.22.
The change was approved unanimously by the council and raised rates will be seen starting in the June billing cycle.
According to City Manager Rodger Craddock, the reason for the higher cost is that the city has two wastewater treatment plants, which is uncommon. Further, he said, the city cannot utilize any sort of gravity-based pipeline for waste, as there are too many hills. To pump the waste water, the city uses some 60 pump stations.
“All of which have a limited lifespan,” Craddock pointed out.
The rate increase was determined by a consultant, who has worked for the city since 2009. To determine the new rate, the consultant considers the costs for the year’s operation of the wastewater treatment plants, maintenance and debt repayment.
Mayor Joe Benetti said the consultant’s work has been accurate in past years in estimating the financial needs of the wastewater rates. Since 2009, the city has increased sewer rates by 6.5% annually. This year’s 5.5% increase is the first break in that trend since then.
“Any increase can hurt and we feel that, but smaller increments are less painful and take less of a dig on citizens,” Councilwoman Stephanie Kilmer said. She went on to say, “We have a lot of infrastructure to take care of.”
According to Craddock, the maintenance to the city’s wastewater plants and 90 miles of sewer line are required by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. This includes planning and capital projects for some 30 individual pipe projects and 14 different pump station projects. Several parts of the line, he said, were 100 years old and have “outlived their useful life.”
He also explained that the two treatment facilities were a holdover and result of the combining of the three former cities of Marshfield, Eastside and Empire. The two plants provide more than enough capacity for the city of Coos Bay and the communities of Bunker Hill and Charleston, Craddock said. Though it is uncommon to have two plants, the cost to change the flow of waste to a single plant was explored several years ago and found to be too expensive.