Council cites need for more planning, reluctance to compete with other bond measures

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: CITY OF WEST LINN - A proposed one-time 18 percent water rate hike will be on hold until 2015, the city council decided Monday. A potential one-time 18 percent increase to West Linn’s water rates will be pushed back into 2015, the West Linn City Council decided Monday.

A year-and-a-half after a ballot measure was shelved in a surprise vote, an 18 percent water rate increase was once again recommended to the City Council Monday in a presentation by the Utility Advisory Board. However, the council was reticent to put such an action to vote on such short notice, and during a November election that will likely feature two measures from the West Linn-Wilsonville School District.

“I’m not supporting putting this on the ballot in November,” Council President Jody Carson said. “But this is the time to come up with a plan for the need for a rate increase.”

“We don’t want competing measures with the school district,” City Councilor Jenni Tan said. “We don’t want citizens to potentially think about one (bond measure) over the other.”

The proposed 18 percent rate increase would more than triple the standard 5 percent increase. UAB members voted in favor of the 18 percent increase at a May 13 meeting.

Such an increase would increase the city’s annual water expenditure from $1,674,200 to $2,193,850. Those funds would be used primarily to replace the city’s aging water pipe system.

The same 18 percent increase was originally slated to be on the March 12, 2013 ballot, but the City Council voted unanimously to pull the measure at a January 2013 meeting, citing a desire to avoid confusion in the midst of hearings regarding the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership project.

"The UAB has been working on this issue for years," UAB chair Raymond Kindley said at Monday's meeting. "We still think this is probably one of the more critical things the city needs to get a handle on. The pipes are deteriorating, and deteriorating fast."

In his annual "State of the City" speech this past February, Mayor John Kovash also identified replacing the city's water pipes as a top priority moving forward. Addressing water pipes was also listed as one of the city council's 2014 priorities.

Under the city charter, the city cannot raise rates by more than 5 percent annually without voter approval. The one-time rate hike would be in addition to the annual 5 percent increase.

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