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Voters should soundly defeat request for an 18 percent water rate increase

Reasons are given here why voters should soundly defeat an upcoming March ballot request for an 18 percent water rate increase for one year. The ruling council majority that existed before end of 2012 voted to place that measure on the March ballot. They promoted it through staff members, the utility advisory board (UAB), ridiculous post cards and the November Update carrying a reprint of a Sept. 20 Tidings’ editorial. These all claimed this rate increase is necessary to fund needed waterline improvements and replacements. That’s simply untrue. There’s plenty of money already available for that. Such a claim can only serve to mislead voters into unwittingly financing implementation of the very expensive, oversized and unnecessary 2008 adopted water master plan.

As I’ve pointed out previously, the perfectly adequate through buildout 2004 water master plan costing $6.9 million less than the 2008 plan should be retained and implemented. It doesn’t require any revenue increase beyond the city charter limited 5 percent annual increase.

The UAB and city council have been extremely negligent in not acknowledging, as per city website, a present ending fund balance of $1,495,817 in the water fund, which covers a reserve requirement of $314,000 and leaves the balance of $1,181,817 to fund immediate replacement of deteriorated waterlines. Large ending fund balances in the water fund have occurred repeatedly. They’ve been more than ample to have replaced deteriorated water system infrastructure, but they were not used for that. It’s therefore absolutely disgraceful that the UAB recommended the 18 percent water rate increase and that the former ruling council majority bought that recommendation and voted to place it on a March ballot.

An article in Nov. 15 Tidings by editor Lori Hall was titled “Water rate hike of 18 percent proposed.” It’s full of nonfactual statements. One glaring example says that since the 1990s the city’s water master plan has required $750,000 annually for waterline improvements and replacements. That’s totally false. Firstly, since the 1990s there have been three consecutive water master plans, not just one. None of them required spending an identical amount of $750,000 annually for waterline improvements and replacements.

That article also claimed that improvements and replacements of waterlines haven’t happened because (1) the city’s water revenue has continually decreased with better water conservation and (2) expenses have steadily increased, including annual hikes from South Fork Water Board for supplying us water.

These claims are false. Since the beginning of 2005 there have been 10 annual rate increases of 5 percent each, which have much more than offset (1) any decreased revenue due to better water conservation and (2) any expense increases, including small increases in rates by South Fork Water Board for supplying us water.

My blog (informingwl.blogspot.com) contains a first column titled “No need for large water revenue increases in West Linn.” It describes two revenue sources more than sufficient to have implemented all needed waterline improvements and replacements, but instead they’ve been used to fund whatever the city otherwise desires.

We obviously don’t need the proposed 18 percent rate increase because our water fund’s annual revenue has been averaging more than $3 million per year and its present ending fund balance contains a remainder of $1,181,817, after covering a $314,000 reserve requirement, that can be used to significantly start fixing our neglected waterlines.

Bob Thomas is a West Linn resident.

(Editor’s note: The West Linn Tidings contends its fact are accurate. Sources used in the Nov. 15 article include Finance Director Richard Seals during a Nov. 5 city council work session and the city’s first quarterly financial report, which can be found at >westlinnoregon.gov/sites/default/files/fileattachments/first_quarter_financial_report_sept_2012_3.pdf.)




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