Modest increases in store for residential users, industry sees bigger jump

by: SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Following completion of a rate study, Columbia City officials adjust water and sewer rate system to reflect cost of actual use.Water and sewer rates in Columbia City are changing after city councilors voted unanimously last week to approve a new rate schedule.

City Administrator Leahnette Rivers said the city expects to see 3 percent increases in its water and sewer revenue as a result of the changes, but the increase is not uniform.

“They are not necessarily straight across-the-board revenue increases,” Rivers said, adding, “We’re beginning to bridge the gap between a couple of the rate tiers. So the charge for our low-usage [water] rate tier was only a half a cent per cubic foot, yet the charge for the next rate tier was four and a quarter cents per cubic foot. So we’re trying to even out the gaps between the rate tiers.”

The water rate changes vary, with the low-usage tier tripling to one and a half cents and the next tier up decreasing by half a cent. Those changes serve to bring the rate per cubic foot for the two tiers closer together.

The base rate for water is also decreasing slightly, from $35.75 to $35.

The sewer base rate increase is slightly more than 3 percent. That rate is moving from $34.50 to $35.54.

The City Council also approved a more radical change to the water rate structure, albeit one that will only affect a few commercial and industrial users in the predominantly residential community.

A consultant presented the results of a rate study to the city in April, Rivers said.

“In his rate study, he recommended that we begin to charge the larger commercial and industrial users on the flow equivalency for their meter size,” she said. “That creates a significant difference in the base rate for a commercial or industrial user with a larger meter.”

Water rates for five users in the city, including the Port of St. Helens office and West Oregon Wood Products, will increase from $39.30 to $65.31 next month — an increase of about 66 percent.

The change is part of a five-year phase-in of base rates for water to bring the commercial and industrial meter rate up to 5.33 times what residential users are charged, equal to the flow equivalency between the smaller and larger meters.

The president of West Oregon Wood Products, Mike Knobel, attended Thursday’s City Council meeting as a supporter of the rate increase.

“It appears that there is a need by the city to raise the rates, and we feel that the city has been fair about how it’s been [apportioned],” Knobel explained.

Knobel added, “As a whole, water is a very small part of our cost to manufacture. Of course, every dollar makes a difference, but again, we support the city in this rate hike.”

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