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Letters: Opinions stream in against water-rate rollback


by: PHOTO COURTESY: OREGON CITY - Pictured with Julie Paulsen of the Oregon City Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Doug Neeley has trouble getting through a doorway in the Oregon City Public Works building, where leaders are hoping to invest in new infrastructure in the coming years.On the ballot of the special May 21 election, Oregon City has a measure to prevent a rollback of water rates to the 1994 level. I encourage Oregon City voters to vote YES on this measure, Measure 3-423.

In 1994, Oregon City borrowed funding to construct a water intake structure on the Clackamas River along with several other water-system capital improvements. The borrowed funding was secured through bonds, and the city committed to increasing water rates, a portion of which was used to pay back the bonds.

In 1996, a citizen-led ballot initiative resulted in an amendment to Oregon City’s Charter which specified that water rates would be rolled back to the 1994 level and that future increases would be capped at no more than 3 percent per year. The rollback did not occur in 1996 because of a court challenge that suspended the roll back until existing bonds could be repaid. Those bonds will be paid off next year and the rollback would follow.

If this rate rollback occurs, Oregon City will experience a 27 percent loss of water utility revenue which will not leave enough funds to cover the operational costs of our water services. To prevent the loss of service, I and all four other members of the Oregon City Commission voted to place Measure 3-423 on the ballot. The amendment will eliminate the rollback but will not eliminate the provision to cap annual increases rate at 3 percent.

Most people, including myself, often refer to the Oregon City’s utility bill as the "water bill." On my bill, the actual water-rate portion is only a little over 20 percent of the total city utility bill, and this is the only portion of water bill affected by voting “yes” on the measure.

I want to be clear that the passing of this measure will not address all of Oregon City’s water issues. Eliminating the rollback alone, even with the existing 3 percent cap, does not cover our pipe replacement needs. Many of Oregon City’s water pipes are at the end of their useful life and need replacement. Some of the city’s 154 miles of water pipes are over 100 years old and are severely obstructed with rust and sediment deposits; they must be replaced. Old-age pipes leak, and this leakage often goes undetected until a severe break occurs and causes service outages.

We on the Oregon City Commission will be considering a measure on a later ballot to address this issue, but we regard maintaining the current level of service as the priority, and it is only this that is being addressed on the May 21 ballot measure.

Please vote YES to guarantee the current level of water service.

Doug Neeley

Oregon City mayor

OCBA supports Measure 3-423

The mission of the Oregon City Business Alliance is to encourage, promote and support positive economic growth in Oregon City. Realizing this mission requires that our city provide families and businesses with reliable, high-quality water services, the Oregon City Business Alliance is asking Oregon City voters to support Measure 3-423 for the following reasons:

n In 1996, the Oregon City Commission adopted Section 58 as part of Oregon City’s charter. This amendment required that water rates be rolled back to 1994 levels and that future rate increases be capped at 3 percent.

n Following the adoption, however, a court blocked the rollback in order to protect bond holders. Thus, the rollback provision was never implemented. However, now that the bonds are scheduled to be fully repaid in 2014, the rollback provision will automatically trigger unless Measure 3-423 is passed.

n A rollback to 1994 rate levels would make providing reliable water service impossible.

n Measure 3-423 asks voters to eliminate the automatic rollback with a "Yes" vote and to keep water rates at their current levels. (This measure will not impact the 3 percent cap on annual rate increases).

The Oregon City Business Alliance supports Measure 3-423 and asks that Oregon City voters support it as well. Let’s keep Oregon City moving forward responsibly.

On behalf of the Board of Directors,

Blane Meier

OCBA president

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