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Utility rates to increase in St. Helens

Utility rates are going up in St. Helens next year, adding a potential average of $8.95 to monthly residential water, sewer and storm drainage bills.

The city will hold a public hearing tonight at the St. Helens City Hall Council Room at 6:30 to discuss the proposed rate increases.

According to St. Helens Finance Director Jon Ellis, the main drivers behind the proposed increases include the departure of Boise Inc., the city’s main industrial user after Armstrong World Industries; an anticipated 6 percent increase in cost of personal services including PERS (Public Employee Retirement System) and health benefits; debt service on the city’s Water Filtration Facility and the Inflow and Infilitration Reduction Program.

This would push most people’s bills from roughly $83 per month to $92, according to numbers gathered by Ellis.

Looking at the proposed increase at a state level, St. Helens’ rates would be just about average for Oregon cities, said St. Helens City Administrator John Walsh.

Also, the rates will likely decrease in following years as the debt service levels out, Ellis said.

The proposed rates would become effective on the first billing cycle on or after Dec. 15.

Rising utility rates will likely be the story in Scappoose as well.

Currently the city is considering a $15 increase on the base utility rate. This increase was anticipated in a staff report in 2009. Scappoose is juggling a lot of deferred maintenance and aging facilities, said City Manager Jon Hanken.

“(The increase) isn’t going to solve the problem,” Hanken said. “It’s going to stop the bleeding.”

The proposed increase has so far only reached the city’s Public Works Advisory Committee. It will likely go before the City Council early next year.

“Nobody’s looking with great joy at having to do this,” Hanken said about the proposed increase.