Although somewhat overshadowed by a lengthy discussion about traffic safety on Southwest Diamond Way, the City Council on Tuesday quietly and unanimously voted to raise next year's water rates for Beaverton residents and businesses.

The increases in consumption rate and meter, or base, charges, will increase the average rate of a single-family home by close to $22 a year.

A public hearing was scheduled for the proposed rate increase, but by the time it came up on the agenda after 10 p.m., any citizens who might have intended to speak had flown the coop.

In the absence of public comment or objections, the council approved a 12.5 percent increase in monthly demand charges and a 10-cent increase in the water consumption rate from $2.37 to $2.47 per 100 cubic feet. That equals about 748 gallons of water.

The vote changes the water meter, or base charge, by $1 per month for a standard, single-family, residence-sized (5/8 or 3/4-inch) meter from the current $8 to $9. Rate changes for business- and industrial-service meters from 1 to 8 inches would range from $1.58 to $24.29 per month.

The increases will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

The changes respond to needs including maintaining operating costs of the water system, keeping the system's revenue stream balanced with that of expenditures and maintaining the city's debt-service coverage ratio at an acceptable level between 1.30 to 1.40. The calculation measures the ratio of available annual net water revenues to the annual debt-service expense.

City councilors called the measure a necessary step in maintaining effective water service amid a downturn in use, being proactive with maintenance and responsible with bond debts.

'While we hate to raise rates at this point, the core mission of the city is to deliver water to residents and businesses here,' said Councilor Betty Bode on Wednesday. 'It was a more prudent decision that we increase the rate to make whole our water system. I don't like it, but I pay the same water bill too.'

Revenues are down. In part because the lingering economic downturn is leaving more vacant buildings and houses. Other factors such as weather are also decreasing water demand, officials say.

'The city is using less water, but the rate is going up,' Bode said. 'We have four or five project related to refurbishing our water systems. And it's the policy in Beaverton to be proactive, to update water pipes instead of waiting for a break in the line.'

In January of this year, a 15-cent increase to the water consumption rate was implemented to cover a budget shortfall.

Councilor Catherine Arnold, who asked city staff for a thorough analysis to possibly avoid another increase, said she'd rather see gradual increases rather than waiting until the system has more serious maintenance- or financial-related problems.

'It's better to do small, incremental amounts both for the public and the bond issuers,' she said. 'You want to make sure you have sufficient revenues coming in to cover your debt.'

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