City reduces Boise Inc.s wastewater obligation

City will know by fall how ratepayers will be affected
by: Tyler Graf FUNDING POOL — Boise Inc.’s contribution to the load requirements of the city’s secondary treatment pond has decreased, as has the company’s financial obligations to the city.

It's official: Boise Inc.'s St. Helens paper mill will pay less next year in water rates.

Through phased monthly decreases, the overall amount Boise pays into the wastewater system will go from 67 percent of the city's total effluent loading volume - the waste dumped into the city's treatment ponds - down to 60.5 percent.

Previously, the city had discussed taking the rate down to as low as 54 percent, to better represent the struggling facility's reduced output.

The controversial rate decrease received a three-to-one vote at City Council's Wednesday afternoon work session. Councilor Phil Barlow, an outspoken critic of Boise, cast the sole dissenting vote.

'When are we going to say, 'No more Boise, no more?'' Barlow said in the lead-up to the vote. He has opposed reductions to Boise's wastewater contract, which he believes will be passed along to residential ratepayers.

Mayor Randy Peterson, whose brother works at the Boise mill, recused himself from the vote due to having a conflict of interest. During the rate negotiations with Boise in 2009, when the city first dropped the company's rates down to 67 percent of the city's wastewater volume, Peterson took a leadership role in those negotiations and ended up censured by the state's ethics board after self-reporting his activity.

Since 2007, when layoffs rocked the city's largest employer, Boise has cut back production and, therefore, the amount of effluent it releases into the secondary wastewater pond. Now, with the latest rate decrease, the city will surrender another $23,700 next year from its secondary wastewater treatment fund, which has an overall balance of $678,500.

City Council's decision is considered a workable middle-ground solution for both Boise and the city, said City Administrator Chad Olsen.

'In the overall scheme, [the loss of $23,700] is not much,' Olsen said. 'We'd like that to be zero, but given the size of the fund, it's manageable and could be absorbed next year.'

The city will know at the end of the summer or early fall what effect the decrease will have on residential ratepayers. The city has already forecast a straight 10 percent increase to its residential water rates, but that may change in the future, Olsen said.

Rusty Burns, Boise's site manager, read from a prepared statement at City Council's evening meeting highlighting the company's belief that decreasing its rates is about equity.

'This [decrease] is ultimately about fairness,' Burns said. 'We have a company-wide commitment to running our business sustainably.'