Medford approves utility, water bill split

Medford residents will start seeing two utility bills in the mailbox next year after the City Council on Thursday reluctantly approved spending $220,058 for a new software system to handle billings.

Utility bills from the city now are attached to the water bill, but the city and the Medford Water Commission have decided to part ways because they couldn't agree on a joint billing system.

"The dynamics of how we got to this point trouble me," Councilor Bob Strosser said.

Councilor Dick Gordon said the city has been subsidizing the Water Commission's billing system for years, so he feared it ultimately could result in higher water rates.

"The homeowners who are going to pay their water bills will suffer from this," he said.

Allison Chan, city finance director, said the Water Commission has assured city staff that a separate billing system wouldn't result in higher water rates.

The city has a complex billing system, collecting fees for sewers, streets, storm drains, public safety and parks, as well as special fees on certain residences for pedestrian street lights and home-based businesses. The new billing system would likely go online by next summer.

City councilors also expressed concern that the city would have to pay up to $100,000 to sever its connection with the Water Commission.

The commission has been in the process of converting to a new software billing system under the assumption that the city would be a part of it.

The $100,000 would cover the costs associated with the Water Commission's efforts to include the city in its new billing program.

"I'm hung up on the $100,000 payment to the Water Commission," Councilor Chris Corcoran said.

Chan told the council the $100,000 was an estimate, and she would bring the final amount back for review before reimbursing the Water Commission.

Ron Norris, president of the Alameda Townhome Association, told councilors he supported the separate billing system.

He said the association loses $31,000 annually because only one water meter serves every three or four units, making it difficult to separate out all the fees.

In other council business, an agreement was reached with the Jackson County Housing Authority to cut in half the size of a Spring Street low-income housing project. The agreement calls for the Housing Authority to place 50 of the 100 apartment units downtown, on city-owned property at Grape and Fifth streets that currently holds a restaurant and parking lot.

Also, the council approved a change to a city ordinance so that parking enforcement officers can place immobilizer boots on the cars of parking-ticket offenders from out of state.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.


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