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Water district proposes steep rate hike

Typical Tualatin Valley Water District customer would pay $60 more per year

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Tualatin Valley Water District is building a massive water storage facility just east of Highway 217 near the Highway 26 interchange. Improvements to the system are one of the reasons the district is proposing a 16.4 increase to a typical resident's bill. Higher supply costs from Portland are another major factor.Tualatin Valley Water District is proposing its steepest rate hike in memory.

If TVWD's Board of Commissioners approves a proposal set to go into effect in November, a typical customer would pay about $60 more per year.

Under the proposal, the combined water usage and fixed rates would rise 16.4 percent over the current cost for a typical residential customer that uses 5,200 gallons of water per month. If approved next week, the new rate would take effect Nov. 1 and help offset the district’s skyrocketing costs of doing business.

For that typical resident, the increase pencils out to $5.01 a month or about $10 for every bi-monthly billing cycle. Larger residential and business customers would pay more based on water usage and meter size.

For customers like Brian Olsen of Aloha, getting a notice recently about the impending rate increase was hard to swallow.

“It just seems kind of excessive to me,” he said. “It just keeps going up and up and up.”

The board will hold a public hearing on the proposed rate increases beginning at 7 p.m. Aug. 19 at TVWD’s headquarters, 1850 S.W. 170th Ave. in Beaverton.

TVWD spokeswoman Marlys Mock said the district already is hearing from customers; they can offer testimony at the public hearing or through a contact form on the district website. Comments also may be submitted by letter or telephone, Mock added.

Last year, when the proposed rate increase was nearly 12 percent, roughly 20 people came to the hearing and five or six testified.

“We’ve definitely received more comments this year than we did last year,” said Mock, who anticipates more testimony at the hearing as well.

According to Mock and other district officials, two major drivers behind the proposed increase are:

• Investment in major capital improvements such as water storage, treatment and transmission facilities inside the district, and developing a long-term and more secure water source through participation in the Willamette River Water Supply project.

• A 16.9 percent increase in bulk water costs from the Portland Water Bureau starting last month, which supplies about two-thirds of the district’s water and will result in a $1 million annual cost increase to TVWD.

Increasing water rates also cover other district cost increases, including energy and personnel.

In total, the increase will bring in an additional $3.5 million for the remainder of the fiscal year, said Paul Matthews, the district's chief financial officer.

Mark Knudson, the district's chief executive officer, said investing in the Willamette River project, which recently broke ground on its first segment, will add costs up front but puts TVWD in control of its own water supply for the future.

"It does turn out over time to be a cost-effective investment," he said. "But we have to spend money to get there."

Until then, Knudson said, "If the (Portland Water Bureau) rate goes up, we simply have no choice but to pass on those costs."

The district serves more than 200,000 people, primarily in central and eastern Washington County, including those living along the Sunset Highway corridor and in the Aloha and Tigard areas.

Its water rates have almost doubled in the past decade, but none of the annual increases were more than the 16.4 percent proposed this year.

TVWD had advertised the cost increases through its budget and rate-setting processes, including mailing a recent postcard to patrons, Knudson said. Those who have testified in the past received an additional notice, he added.

"We've tried very actively to let the community know what we're doing," he said.

TVWD’s boundaries nearly surround the city of Beaverton, which has its own water department. This year, Beaverton approved water rate increases that added $1.80 to a typical resident’s monthly utility bill starting last month.

Unlike TVWD, Beaverton hasn’t yet committed to full participation in the Willamette River Water Supply. City officials are considering joining TVWD and the city of Hillsboro in the project, but perhaps at a lower participation level.

Beaverton also can tap most of its current water demand from the Joint Water Commission supply system that collects water in the Coast Range and purchases relatively little water from Portland, so it was more insulated when the latter raised its rates.


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