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Philomath
Saturday, November 27, 2021

Council votes to lower city water rates effective Jan. 1

Philomath residents will soon be seeing lower water and sewer bills with the City Council’s approval Monday night of a rate reduction that goes into effect Jan. 1. Based on calculations provided by the city staff, the water portion of the residential customer’s utility bill will go down by an average of $19 per month.

Water and sewer rates had gone up in recent years to prepare the city for borrowing money to construct a new water treatment plant. However, the city earlier this year learned that it had been awarded a $12 million grant from the state to cover the amount needed to complete the project. As a result, a proposal developed to ease the burden on city utility customers.

RELATED: CLICK HERE TO READ THE COUNCIL MEETING PACKET
RELATED: CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE MEETING’S AUDIO

Councilor Teresa Nielson said during the meeting that it’s time “to give our citizens the break that they deserve after having supported and put their hard-earned dollars toward higher rates in support of the water treatment (plant). Now that we have this grant, let’s make this more doable for the average family.”

The water rate reduction proposal was discussed during the Sept. 13 City Council meeting but it was tabled and sent back to the committee level to further discuss the possibility of charging incrementally higher rates for high usage.

Councilor David Low, who chairs the Finance and Administration Committee, said that group — which also includes Chas Jones and Matt Lehman — took a close look at data provided by the city’s finance director, which included numbers on water users.

“The data that we have does not provide the depth to be able to determine if any particular household is wasting water or not,” Low said. “And that’s really what conservation is about — that we’re conserving water, we’re not wasting water.”

Low said the committee had a hard time determining how to differentiate between a household that’s just wasting water and a household that might be conserving water but simply has a large family.

“The difficulty is we don’t know what the circumstances are as to why any particular household may use more than the average amount of water or any amount of water,” Low said. “We really don’t have any way to measure and that’s the conundrum we have.”

In the end, Low said the committee determined that it could not come up with any fair and equitable method to establish a system to conserve water through a rate structure. Thus, the committee resubmitted its original recommendation

Councilor Jessica Andrade said she was “very disappointed to see the same proposal. I had hoped that there would be at least one alternative.”

Andrade then asked to see the data the committee had used to reach its conclusions and wanted a more comprehensive overview of all fees.

“We’d like to know more about what it is you actually talked about because what’s here seems fairly generalized,” she said.

A tense exchange between Low and Andrade followed and that led to comments about the apparent distrust that exists among councilors and in relation to the recommendations that come out of committees. In the end, Low offered to email the data to Andrade and anyone else interested.

Councilor Catherine Biscoe said the emphasis behind sending the issue back to the committee was to look at methods to encourage conservation, not force conservation.

Low said the committee did have a good conversation about alternative ways to conserve water, which could be part of an improved educational outreach effort from the city.

“We were looking at ways to try to encourage citizens on their own to be conscious of the need to conserve water and best practices without making it a mandate,” Low said.

Other councilors weighed in on the topic as well and in the end, a motion to approve the new rates passed on a 5-2 vote. A vote to adopt a resolution setting utility fees passed 4-3 (see Voting Record below for details).

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 monthly utility bill would go down from an average of $68 to $49.40. Rates for other types of customers, such as multi-residential, commercial and industrial users, would also be reduced in the same proportions.

The reduced rate still allows 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.

Also going into effect on Jan. 1 will be a new fee for nonstandard sewage discharge, which was established to address sewer discharge from a new recreational vehicle park that is coming to Philomath.

In other news out of the Nov. 8 meeting:

• The council approved a resolution in recognition of Veterans Day, which in part read, “We encourage our residents to honor the valor and sacrifice of our veterans, thank the veterans in their lives and to take a few moments to learn more about the sacrifices made by our veterans.”

• Izzie Elliott during visitors and petitions spoke about efforts to improve the skate park in Philomath City Park and encouraged people to participate in Wednesday’s Philomath Park Master Plan Open House.

• Jeff Lamb and Don Gist both spoke during visitors and petitions on matters related to the history of Marys River Park and outlined future uses of the property, including information about a founders’ statement that had been signed by Lamb, Gist and others as founders and past presidents of the Philomath 2000 Project that had been removed from the city’s Park Master Plan beginning in 2012. The location of a water treatment plant reservoir inside the northwest corner park boundary and details of a bioswale project related to the city’s streetscapes project were brought into the conversation as well. City Manager Chris Workman spoke to those issues and the council followed with a motion that passed on a 6-1 vote to bring the matter before the City Council at its next meeting.

• The council approved the adoption of an Economic Opportunities Analysis designed to become a support document in the city’s Comprehensive Plan and the first reading of the related ordinance — both on 5-2 votes. The ordinance will come back for a second vote since the first was not unanimous.

• The council voted unanimously to direct city staff to ask for time availability and cost estimates from the League of Oregon Cities for an effectiveness intervention program that had been discussed at previous meetings. The council appeared to favor meeting for half-days on two Saturdays but asked staff to come back with LOC’s options, including pricing.

• The council approved a plan to award a contract to the city’s Public Art Ad-Hoc Committee’s selected vendor for design services in relation to the streetscapes project. Councilors did express the desire to be a part of the process for choosing final designs. The committee is limited to no more than $3,500 for the design services vendor contract with the funds coming out of streetscape funds, most likely Urban Renewal Agency dollars, Workman said.

• The council approved on a 5-2 vote the second reading of an ordinance to adopt a Housing Needs Analysis that will become a support document in the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

• The council approved on a 5-2 vote the first reading of an ordinance to amend city code related to landscaping, fences, hedges and walls. The ordinance will come back for a second vote since the first was not unanimous.

• The council approved on a 6-1 vote the first reading of an ordinance to adopt city code pertaining to industrial zone building standards.

• The council approved on a 6-1 vote a request by Biscoe to consider attaching a document to the Comprehensive Plan that outlines concerns that surfaced during the approval process of ECONorthwest analyses, reports to be included in the comp plan as support documents. Andrade, Biscoe and Matt Lehman will draft the document to bring back to the council.

• Workman during a staff report said City Hall’s lobby has been closed in recent days because of a COVID scare. Several employees are working at home while awaiting test results.

• The council met twice in executive session during the evening — for about 50 minutes prior to the regular meeting to discuss performance evaluations of public officers and employees, and again after the meeting for 90 minutes to consult with legal counsel on current litigation or litigation likely to be filed.


VOTING RECORD
Following is a list of primary votes taken by the Philomath City Council at its Nov. 8 meeting:
• To approve Resolution 21-16 as amended, a Veterans Day proclamation. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 5-0 (Yes—Andrade, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low; Absent—Biscoe, Nielson).
• To approve the addition of an agenda discussion on water treatment plant project specifics at the Nov. 22 meeting. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Biscoe. Vote: Passes 6-1 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Low, Nielson; No—Lehman).
• To approve a consent agenda that included minutes as amended from the Oct. 11 and Oct. 25 City Council meeting and an Oct. 11 work session. Motion: None. Seconded: None. Vote: Passes 5-2 (Yes—Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Andrade, Biscoe).
• To approve that the city reduce 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 proportionately. Furthermore, to establish a non-standard sewer discharge rate effective Jan. 1, 2022. Motion: Low. Seconded: Jones. Vote: Passes 5-2 (Yes—Biscoe, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Andrade, Causey).
• To adopt Resolution 21-06 setting utility fees in the city of Philomath. Motion: Jones. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 4-3 (Yes—Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey).
• To adopt the findings of fact as presented in the staff report for the adoption of the Economic Opportunities Analysis in File No. PC21-05 and that the city manager be directed to present the appropriate ordinance to the City Council for its consideration. Motion: Lehman. Seconded: Causey. Vote: Passes 5-2 (Yes—Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Andrade, Biscoe).
• To adopt Ordinance 493 and amended by Ordinance 720 to approve and adopt the city of Philomath 2021-2041 Economic Opportunities Analysis as an appendix and support document in the Comprehensive Plan (first reading). Roll-call vote: Passes 5-2 (Yes—Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Andrade, Biscoe).
• To direct city staff to seek options on timing and pricing of League of Oregon Cities council effectiveness intervention training. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Biscoe. Vote: Passes 7-0 (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson).
• To approve staff to award a contract to the Public Art Ad-Hoc Committee’s selected vendor for design services, in an amount not to exceed $3,500. Motion: Causey. Seconded: Nielson. Vote: Passes 6-1 (Yes—Biscoe, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Andrade).
• To adopt Ordinance 856 to amend the Comprehensive Plan as adopted by Ordinance 493and amended by Ordinance 720 to approve and adopt the city of Philomath 2021-2041 Housing Needs Analysis as an appendix and support document. Roll-call vote: Passes 5-2 (Yes—Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Andrade, Biscoe).
• To approve Ordinance 857 to adopt amendments to Philomath municipal code chapter 18.70 related to landscaping and chapter 18.72 related to fences, hedges and walls (first reading). Roll-call vote: Passes 5-2 (Yes—Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Andrade, Biscoe).
• To approve Ordinance 858 to adopt Philomath municipal code section 18.45.080 pertaining to industrial zone building standards (first reading). Roll-call vote: Passes 6-1 (Yes—Andrade, Causey, Jones, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Biscoe).
• To approve the creation of a document for consideration by the council to be attached to the ECONorthwest reports that are approved as Comprehensive Plan appendices and support documents that outline concerns. Motion: Biscoe. Seconded: Lehman. Vote: Passes 6-1. (Yes—Andrade, Biscoe, Causey, Lehman, Low, Nielson; No—Jones).

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