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Boise paying less for water?

Reduction would mean less revenue for St. Helens

The financial repercussions of Boise Inc.'s production scale back at its St. Helens plant that began in 2006 continue to ripple through the city of St. Helens.

In what's becoming an annual tradition, the city is mulling yet another decrease to Boise's annual wastewater rate - currently set at $560,000 - the result of the paper mill's reduced output into the city's secondary wastewater treatment lagoon.

At its pre-2006 peak, the mill was responsible for about 87 percent of the city's wastewater revenue. But after Boise's wastewater contract was rewritten in 2009, allowing for annual decreases based on usage, the rate dropped to 67 percent through 2010.

A city-Boise-sanctioned advisory team dropped that level down to a proposed rate of 54 percent for the 2011-2012 year, which would ultimately cost the city $70,000 in annual revenue.

City Councilor Keith Locke said he's willing to concede a decrease but suggested the city set the new rate at 58 percent, a 1 percent reduction in revenue that would result in a $48,500 loss for the city.

When proposed at a May 18 City Council work session, the idea was popular with the majority of councilors. The exception was Councilor Phil Barlow, who has staked a position against Boise's annual wastewater-rate decreases, saying that such reductions will ultimately be passed on to citizens.

Councilor Doug Morten cautioned against that stance, warning that Boise could choose to shut down its paper mill entirely, leaving the city with an even greater financial burden.

'I'll help them move,' Barlow responded.

Financial Director Jon Ellis said that the reductions could result in further increases to homeowners' rates beyond the 10 percent annual increase that's anticipated for the next five years.

The city could also attempt to shift back the work schedule for some of its costlier projects, such as its inflow and infiltration project.