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Washington County sewer, stormwater rates will go up

Clean Water Services budget boost means hike

Washington County property owners will soon see modest increases in their monthly bills for sewage treatment and stormwater management.

County commissioners approved the increases June 21 as part of the annual budget for Clean Water Services, an agency separate from county government but governed by the commissioners.

The increases for the agency, which serves 560,000 people in the urban areas of the county, took effect July 1.

The monthly sanitary sewer fee will increase by 3 percent, or $1.21. The monthly stormwater management fee will increase by 6.9 percent, or 50 cents. Together the combined fees for an average household will go up by 3.56 percent, from $48.05 to $49.76 monthly.

Residents in seven cities — Beaverton, Cornelius, Forest Grove, Hillsboro, Sherwood, Tigard and Tualatin — also will see surcharges that cities can assess for one or both services. Cities share those proceeds with Clean Water Services based on their agreements.

Systems development charges, which are assessed one time on new development, also will go up. The sewer connection charge will go up from $5,100 to $5,300, and for stormwater management, from $500 to $510.

Although the agency budget will go up by 4.5 percent — and the number of full-time employees increases from 329 to 338 — Clean Water Services actually will employ fewer people per 10,000 residents than it did back in 1998. The ratio back then was nine per 10,000, compared with under six per 10,000 in the new budget.

General Manager Bill Gaffi told commissioners costs have moderated through new technologies and community partnerships with public and private agencies.

The bulk of the agency’s budget comes from service rates ($130.7 million) and systems development charges ($22 million).

Gaffi said the agency provides services at a cost lower than comparable agencies in the metro area.

“The community’s investment is paying off for our ratepayers and the environment,” he said on May 13, when the agency budget committee approved the budget. “Studies show the Tualatin River is healthier today than it’s been in generations, and we’re able to deliver these services at some of the most reasonable rates in the region.”

Tony Weller, chairman of both the agency’s citizen advisory committee and the agency’s budget committee, said it is a tribute to Gaffi and the agency staff that they have been able to moderate the cost increases.

“I think it is always easier to add to the program,” said Weller, president of a Tigard engineering firm and a former Tualatin city councilor, at the county commissioners’ hearing.

“So the ability to constrain one’s self ... is something that is special in a regulatory environment. We do not see that very often.”

Still, in response to a question by County Chairman Andy Duyck, Gaffi said it will be a challenge for older cities to replace aging sewer pipes and other infrastructure.

“It is going to continue to put financial stress on some of the smaller cities with aging infrastructure,” Gaffi said.

At $71 million in the coming year, the agency budget for capital construction will exceed the $67.5 million for operations. More than $26 million is for debt service.

Of the construction budget, $39.7 million will go into the four wastewater treatment plants and 40 pump stations operated by the agency; $17 million to expand, repair or replace the sewer collection system; $6.7 million to restore flow to the Tualatin River and tributaries, including planting of large-scale stream and wetland restoration projects, and $4 million for stormwater projects to control pollution and improve local drainage.