Council creates task force to address city's aging water system
by: Vern Uyetake John Myhra of the West Linn water department looks over a piece of pipe that was the cause of a major water leak on Broadway Street back in May 2010.

Water is a necessity of life; however, West Linn has been ignoring its water system for many years and is now paying the price.

With routine water main breaks and insufficient water storage, the city has been bandaging its aging water system for at least a decade.

The West Linn Utility Advisory Board now says the city must take action, expanding the Bolton reservoir and replacing its water infrastructure. The board's chairman, Raymond Kindley, spoke to the city council during its March 5 work session.

Kindley urged the council to make the city's decaying water infrastructure its top priority this year.

'The UAB did agree … that city council should give the reconstruction and the fixing of the water system the top priority,' Kindley said. 'We see the water system has been neglected for years. This goes back, I bet, on the Utility Advisory Board for 15 years.'

He likened the city's water system to an ugly stepchild - an issue that has been neglected and ignored by the city for years.

'It's really clear we've been deferring the maintenance of our pipes for far too long,' city councilor Teri Cummings said.

Kindley said, 'Beside the fact that it has not been funded properly for years, we looked at the role water plays in our city, and we can't imagine anything more important.'

Kindley mentioned the city council's 2012 goals, which include economic development and a potential aquatic recreation center.

'Frankly, I don't even know if you can have economic development if you don't have good, clean water and a reliable water supply," Kindley said. 'I'm not sure you can have a good swimming pool without a clean, reliable water supply.'

The city is exploring two options to fund the Bolton reservoir and infrastructure projects; both have advantages and disadvantages. Both also would require a citywide vote on a November ballot measure.

The city could issue general obligation bonds, which are assessed against property owners. The GO bonds would provide a constant revenue stream regardless of water usage and would be based on property values. Once the GO bonds are paid for, that tax would be terminated and property taxes would drop.

One downside to a general obligation bond is that the city and the school district (two of the largest water users) would be exempt.

With revenue bonds, the other option, those who use the water pay for the system's improvements through increased water rates.

'Those who are using the system are paying for it,' Kindley said.

Another benefit to revenue bonds is that the city could change the rate classifications so both the city and school district would also help pay for the bonds.

The UAB members all agreed the infrastructure system should be paid for using revenue bonds, but they were divided as to funding the reservoir.

'This is where the Utility Advisory Board split pretty much down the middle,' Kindley said. 'I'm right here wavering in the middle. Both funding mechanisms have their advantages and disadvantages.'

The UAB was also divided on whether the two - the reservoir and the overall infrastructure - should appear as one or two measures on the ballot.

'We do think that additional capital funding is necessary for both the water system and the Bolton reservoir,' Kindley said.

The council will need to decide by early August how to put the water measures on the ballot. To help gauge community preference, the council is putting together a task force.

The task force will be charged with engaging and educating the public, as well as surveying the funding options. The council passed a resolution to create the task force during its Monday meeting.

'I personally see this as one of our highest priorities," city councilor Jody Carson said. "A sustainable water system is critical.'

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