In order to fund a number of short- and long-term water-related projects and needed upkeep in St. Helens, the City Council accepted a staff proposal to raise residents' utilities annually until at least 2021.

Until 2016, water, sewer and storm drainage rates will increase yearly by 15.5 percent, 7.6 percent and 9.5 percent respectively. After that, rates will rise by 2 percent for water, 3.5 percent for sewer and 3 percent for storm drainage.

The yearly rate increases could still be modified with each new budget to adapt to actual costs of projects or the city's financial outlook, said Financial Director Jon Ellis.

A few residents came to the Dec. 7 City Council meeting to share objections to the new rates. Opponents of the increases say the city shouldn't cover its expenses by hurting the budgets of its residents, many of whom are on a fixed income.

Because of a dwindling budget and vital infrastructure projects and repairs, Ellis said the increases were unfortunate, but very necessary.

According to a consultant-led study commissioned by the city, $8.7 million of additional revenue is needed for water capital projects over the next decade, including annual replacements of aging pipes and meters. On top of that, $7.3 million is needed for sewer projects and $6.4 million for storm projects.

The average utility bills for a single-family home will increase from $26.75 to $30.90 for water, $37.40 to $40.24 for sewer and $8.35 to $9.14 for storm drainage. The average combined monthly bills would increase from $72.50 to $80.28, a 10.68 percent increase.

The average bills for a low-usage commercial customer will increase from $79.17 to $91.44 for water, $115.54 to $124.32 for sewer and $16.70 to $18.29 for storm drainage.

City officials originally predicted a 10 percent hike in water utility bills this summer after the city decreased the amount of Boise Inc.'s wastewater payments, from 67 percent of St. Helens' total effluent loading volume - the waste dumped into treatment ponds - to 60.5 percent. That left less revenue for the city.

To help needy residents deal with the extra hit to their pocketbooks, Ellis said he has begun talks with the Community Action Team to implement a low-income payment program. That topic will be discussed at an upcoming council meeting.

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