Rates up by 4.5%, will rise again next December

The St. Helens City Council approved new utility rate schedules to increase water, sewer and stormwater rates by about 4.5 percent immediately and then again next December while meeting Wednesday, Dec. 4.

The new rates, effective as of Thursday, Dec. 5, will increase by approximately 4.5 percent again on Dec. 1, 2014.

Jon Ellis, St. Helens finance director, told city councilors at a work session Wednesday afternoon that the rate increase “assures sufficient reserves” for the city treasury.

Ellis also presented a plan to reconfigure senior citizens’ subsidy for water rates to an “income-based program.” As part of the rate changes, St. Helens will no longer accept new applications for age-based subsidies, and it will notify seniors currently receiving a subsidy that they will need to reapply for the new program.

While Ellis suggested the City Council could evaluate his plan and adopt some version of it at its Dec. 18 meeting, Council President Doug Morten said he would prefer to open the process up to the public.

“Here’s the deal, Jon, that you haven’t said, or you haven’t revealed,” Morten said. “The 4.5 percent increase to our citizenry across the board, that isn’t going to be true. It’s going to be a 19.5 percent increase, if we do away with the senior citizen [subsidy], for many of those senior citizens, isn’t it?”

Morten continued, “All I’m asking is that ... we give those people an opportunity to voice their opinion, so it isn’t shoved down their throat.”

Ellis said he is unsure by how much utility rates will increase for seniors who will not be eligible for the proposed income-based assistance program, although he conceded that not all subsidized seniors will qualify if the criteria change.

The council backed Morten’s suggestion that the public be given additional time to weigh in on changes to the subsidy and set a public hearing for Jan. 15.

“The package that you put together is a good starting point, and may be the ending point,” Mayor Randy Peterson, who proposed the Jan. 15 hearing, said to Ellis. “But at least it gives us discussion points for the public forum.”

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