Rate increase will add $8.95 to the average monthly residential utility bill

The St. Helens City Council voted to increase utility rates at a meeting Dec. 5 after listening to further testimony from city residents.

The council originally opened the hearing two weeks ago, holding it on the day before Thanksgiving, a move that drew criticism from residents who attended. The hearing was continued to Dec. 5, allowing more people an opportunity to speak on the issue.

The 10.77 percent increase will add approximately $8.95 to the average monthly residential utility bill. City Finance Director Jon Ellis said some of the main drivers behind the increase are the departure of Boise Inc. at the end of the year, the debt service on a water filtration project which the city has been struggling to pay, a projected increase to public employee pension rates and ongoing utility operation and maintenance costs.

The new rates will take effect beginning at the first full billing cycle on or after Dec. 15 and on Feb. 13 for bi-monthly bills.

It is not the last increase for the city, Ellis said. Currently, he has projected the city will need to consider raising rates again in the next budget cycle by 8.77 percent. By July 2015, he hopes any further increases would be smaller.

The decision to raise rates was not an easy one, said city officials.

“All the same questions that you guys ask, we ask too,” Mayor Randy Peterson told the handful of people who came to speak to the council Dec. 5.

“Every decision that we make, somebody’s happy and somebody’s mad,” Peterson added.

Based on testimony the council received, no one appeared too happy about the rate increase, but many were understanding.

“If Boise had never happened, we’d be further ahead,” said Donna Coblantz, referring to the debt service issues. Still, the increase will not be easy to swallow. She estimated she will be “OK” for the next three or four years, but after that, she’s not sure.

“I don’t see us taking any more showers or using any more water (than we already are),” said St. Helens resident Patricia Ortiz, adding that her bills are already high because of past increases.

To make matters worse, her husband, along with approximately 105 others, will lose his job when Boise Inc. shuts down its remaining paper machine at the end of the year.

Any additional bills or fee increases will be difficult for these newly unemployed people, Ortiz said.

“This is hitting us pretty hard,” she said.

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