Council delays final vote on utility rate changes

The Philomath City Council chose to hold off on the final approval of reducing utility rates during its Sept. 13 meeting and sent the matter back to the committee level to give more attention to incentivizing conservation by charging incrementally higher rates for high usage.

A proposal to lower utility bills likely came as welcomed news to local households after rates had gone up in recent years to prepare for the borrowing of funds to construct a new water treatment plant. When the city was told they had been awarded a $12 million grant from the state to cover the amount needed to complete the project, thoughts almost immediately turned to easing the burden on residents by lowering their water and sewer bills.

“What we looked at was an appropriate way to recognize this money that we’re receiving in the form of being able to reduce the water rates for citizens while at the same time, preserving some measure of preserving funds for future situations,” said City Councilor David Low, who chairs the Finance and Administration Committee, the group tasked with coming up with a game plan. “There’s a balance between benefitting the citizens now … as well as showing that we’re being prudent and setting money aside for future needs.”

The committee recommended that the rate for 3/4-inch meter lines be reduced from $24.80 per month to $13 per month and that the monthly low-income rate go down from $14.20 to $13. In addition, the committee recommended that the water per unit rate be reduced from $5.40 to $4.55 for all customers.

Based on the average residential customer’s usage of eight units per month, the water portion of a utility bill would go down by almost $19 per month.

Rates for other types of customers, such as multi-residential, commercial and industrial users, would also be reduced in the same proportions.

As for putting money aside for future projects, the reduced rate would still allow for approximately $600,000 per year to be transferred to the city’s Land, Building and Equipment Fund for Water Master Plan priority projects that would need to be completed in the next five to seven years.

Another component of the utility rate change package involves the establishment of a new fee for nonstandard sewage discharge.

“This is essentially looking forward to the RV park coming into town, that’s going to have considerably higher-strength sewage,” City Manager Chris Workman said. “There’s some pretreatment, some additional testing that needs to be done with that but the city doesn’t currently in our rate structure have a way to get compensated for that additional work.”

Thus, the fee for the high-strength user — the RV park — would cover that additional work.

Workman recommended that since Philomath has not yet received the $12 million grant, the lower water rates would not become effective until Jan. 1.

“We’ll bring you the actual resolution that makes these changes at the November meeting,” Workman told councilors. “That’ll give time to hopefully by then have the $12 million in the bank. … But we wanted to get numbers out in front of the council and let homeowners know this is the intent and the direction we’re headed.”

City Councilor Jessica Andrade asked that since the grant appears to be guaranteed money, why not make those lower water rates effective sooner than Jan. 1?

“If at all possible, I’d like to see the effective date moved up to being sooner and I don’t want to vote no only because we need this desperately,” Andrade said. “Our community very much needs this.”

Andrade also expressed disappointment that the water rate issue was discussed in Finance and Administration, and not the Public Works Committee.

City Councilor Catherine Biscoe wanted information about any possible considerations of how the city charges water rates based on usage as it relates to conservation. Low said that the issue had been discussed.

“We were all in agreement that we wanted to have those who use more water to pay for it,” Low said.

Biscoe said she didn’t see any references to that discussion in the recommendations from the committee, only a flat reduction.

“Again, to the point of conservation and as our community grows and we see more strains put on our water source both from our own users but also Corvallis, is this the time to be talking about that type of step increase based on your usage?” Biscoe asked.

The discussion moved forward to Biscoe requesting through a motion to send the issue back to the Finance and Administration Committee in consideration of incremental increases for high users.

At that point in the discussion, Workman repeated what Low had said earlier about the issue already being considered, saying he was concerned that this was a “punt here to go back to committee.”

Biscoe’s motion ended up carrying on a 4-3 vote with Andrade, Ruth Causey and Matt Lehman joining her as yes votes. Chas Jones, Low and Teresa Nielson voted nay.

The utility rates issue was one of 28 votes that the City Council took during the three-hour meeting. In other news:

• The mayor asked for a moment of silence for Sylvia Youngman, the victim of a traffic fatality that occurred on Main Street on Aug. 29.

• The council unanimously approved the placement of a state historical marker honoring Reuben and Mary Jane Shipley, and Mount Union Cemetery, in the park area along Newton Creek on the north side of James Street. It will become the second historical marker in Philomath, the current one identifying the significance of the Philomath College building. The motion also approved a request for a letter of support for the project.

• The council unanimously approved a fare-free system on the Philomath Connection bus service contingent on the city receiving money through a state grant to cover this year’s budgeted revenue.

• Following a series of failed motions requesting amendments, councilors approved the adoption of a housing needs analysis and to move forward to the preparation of an ordinance, which if approved, would add the report as an appendix item in the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

• The council approved on a 5-2 vote to revisit Citycouncil Insurance Services (CIS) as an option for an intervention program to improve effectiveness. The council had unanimously voted in August to hire the League of Oregon Cities for its solution at a cost of $5,000. However, some councilors received public pushback on spending that money when CIS has a similar program that the city already pays for through insurance premiums with no additional cost. Councilors debated the issue for several minutes and in the end, decided to look further into the CIS scope of services with a final decision to be made at a Sept. 27 meeting.

• The council unanimously approved the official appointments of Zina Allen, Maeve Dempsey, Cynthia Konrad and Anissa Teslow as community representatives to the Inclusivity Committee, a motion that also included an amendment asking the group to prioritize work to identify goals and objectives. A separate motion, which was approved 7-0, directs the committee to discuss term limits for community members and provide a recommendation to the council.

• The council unanimously approved Jones, as the mayor, to serve as the voting delegate to the League of Oregon Cities membership meeting. Causey, as the council president, was appointed as the alternate voting member.

• The council formed an ad hoc public art committee to provide oversight to decisions related to public art in the Downtown Safety and Streetscapes Project. Applications are currently being accepted from the public to serve on the committee with those due Sept. 27. The new committee’s first meeting is planned for Oct. 7.

• The council approved a civil compromise with the mayor involving an incident in which he backed up into a sign in a city parking lot. See separate story.

• The council approved the first reading of an ordinance on a 5-2 roll-call vote to establish system development charge rates for the rest of calendar year 2021. The related resolution was later tabled since the ordinance’s first reading vote was not unanimous.

• The council unanimously approved an ordinance to amend the Comprehensive Plan to include the city’s Main Street Plan as a support document.

• The council unanimously approved a resolution with amendments to reaffirm an Inclusivity Committee proclamation.

• The City Council began the evening with a work session that lasted 1 hour, 20 minutes to discuss specific sections of its rules of procedure for meetings.

VOTING RECORD
Following is a list of votes taken by the Philomath City Council at its Sept. 13 meeting:
• To approve a consent agenda that included the Aug. 9 City Council work session minutes, Aug. 23 City Council minutes, setting a public hearing for municipal code amendments related to landscaping, fences and hedges standards, and setting a public hearing for municipal code amendments related to industrial zone material standards. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To approve the Aug. 9 City Council regular meeting minutes as amended. Motion: Lehman. Seconded: None. Vote: Fails with no second to the motion.
• To table the Aug. 9 City Council regular meeting minutes. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Low. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To accept the recommendation from the Park Advisory Board and approve the requested site for placement of a historic marker recognizing the Reuben and Mary Jane Shipley family and Mount Union Cemetery, and request the letter of support for the project be submitted. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Nielson. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To approve fare-free bus service, subject to receiving a State Transportation Improvement Fund grant to cover this year’s budgeted revenue of $20,500, and direct the city manager to proceed with the STIF grant application and execution. Motion: Low. Seconded: Causey. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To amend a motion on the table to request that ECONorthwest in its Housing Needs Analysis add contextual language be included specifically for housing types. Motion: Andrade. Seconded: None. Vote: Fails with no second to the motion.
• To amend a motion on the table to request that ECONorthwest in its Housing Needs Analysis recognizes that available information on population trends holds value and that it cites reasons for those details not being included in the report and also to incorporate data that resulted from Planning Commission recommendations. Motion: Andrade. Seconded: Biscoe. Vote: Fails 5-2 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe; No—Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To amend a motion on the table to request that ECONorthwest in its Housing Needs Analysis revisit information on median rent. Motion: Andrade. Seconded: None. Vote: Fails with no second to the motion.
• To approve the findings as presented by the City Council and adopt ECONorthwest’s Housing Needs Analysis in File No. PC21-04 and direct the city manager to present the appropriate ordinance to the City Council for its consideration. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Low. Vote: Passes 5-2 (Yes—Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Andrade, Biscoe).
• To approve a “call the question” request to vote on the motion on the table (facilitation session services). Motion: Low. Seconded: None. Vote: Passes 4-3 (Yes—Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey).
• To request a comparable scope of services from Citycounty Insurance Services before proceeding with finalizing a contract with the League of Oregon Cities for facilitation session services based on public input received. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Low. Vote: Passes 5-2 (Yes—Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Andrade, Biscoe).
• To amend a motion on the table to request that the Inclusivity Committee focus on defining its goals and objectives. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Jones. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To amend a motion on the table to request that the Inclusivity Committee community member terms run for two years. Motion: Jones. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Fails 7-0 (No—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To appoint official Inclusivity Committee members from the community as Zina Allen, Maeve Dempsey, Cynthia Konrad and Anissa Teslow. Motion: Andrade. Seconded: Nielson. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To ask the Inclusivity Committee to discuss term limits for community members and provide a recommendation to the City Council. Motion: Jones. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To select the mayor as the voting delegate and the council president as the
alternate for the upcoming League of Oregon Cities membership meeting. Motion: Lehman. Seconded: Low. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To support proposed constitutional amendments at the Oct. 23 League of Oregon Cities membership meeting. Motion: None. Vote: Passes 6-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Low, Nielson; Abstains—Lehman).
• To establish the Ad Hoc Public Art Committee and direct staff to receive applications and
select members randomly based on the method described on the provided application. Motion: Lehman. Seconded: Nielson. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To approve a reduction in the residential water base charge for a 3/4-inch meter to $13 per month and the water unit charge to $4.55 effective Jan. 1, 2022. The base charges for other meter sizes will be adjusted proportionally. Furthermore, to establish a nonstandard sewer fee as presented effective Jan. 1, 2022. Motion: Low. Seconded: Causey. Vote: None (motion to table the motion passed).
• To table a decision on proposed utility rate changes and send the matter back to the Finance and Administration Committee for further consideration related to implementing incremental increases for high usage to incentivize conservation. Motion: Biscoe. Seconded: Andrade. Vote: Passes 4-3 (Yes—Andrade Biscoe, Causey, Lehman; No—Jones, Low, Nielson).
• To approve a civil compromise involving Mayor Chas Jones. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 5-1 (Yes—Andrade, Causey, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Biscoe; Recused—Jones).
• To approve Ordinance 854 to amend Philomath municipal code to reference companion Ordinance 847 regarding system development charge rate and methodology reports for water, sewer, transportation and park systems (first reading). Roll-call vote: Passes 5-2 (Yes—Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Andrade, Biscoe).
• To extend the meeting 30 minutes past the predetermined 9:30 p.m. end time. Motion: Jones. Seconded: Causey. Vote: Passes 5-2 (Yes—Andrade, Causey, Jones, Low, Nielson; No—Biscoe, Lehman).
• To approve Ordinance 855 to amend the Comprehensive Plan as adopted by Ordinance 493 and amended by Ordinance 720 to approve and adopt the city of Philomath Main Street Plan as an appendix and support document. Roll-call vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To table a vote on Resolution 21-13 updating system development charge rates until Ordinance 854 passes second reading. Motion: Lehman. Seconded: Biscoe. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To table Resolution 21-14 reaffirming the inclusivity proclamation and send it back to the Inclusivity Committee. Motion: Biscoe. Seconded: Causey. Vote: None (Biscoe withdrew motion, Causey agreed).
• To approve Resolution 21-14 as amended to reaffirm an Inclusivity Committee proclamation. Motion: Biscoe. Seconded: Causey. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To ask the Inclusivity Committee to consider making a statement related to Indigenous Peoples’ Day (Oct. 11). Motion: Jones. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
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