EAGLE POINT — For the first time in 10 years, Eagle Point residents will pay more for water after the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to increase rates.
Effective July 1, the basic rate paid by all users will increase by $4 to $14.31 a month. Actual measured water use will increase by 30 cents for each 1,000 gallons of water used.
"For a resident using 9,000 gallons of water per month, this will mean an increase of $6.70 per month," said City Finance Officer Melissa Owens. "The city has not increased the water base rate since 2003, and while reluctant to ask its ratepayers to pay more, it has become absolutely necessary."
Owens said the rate increase was needed because the costs of operating and maintaining the water system, including last year's major repair of a leaking 3.6 million-gallon water reservoir, are exceeding system revenue by more than $250,000 a year.
She said the city is using its water reserve fund to make up the shortfall and warned the fund will be exhausted within three or four years.
Owens said the city wants to refinance its current system debt to take advantage of lower interest rates that she estimates will save the city "hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest charges." But in order to qualify for refinancing, she said financial institutions require the city to set its water rates at a point high enough to service its debt and other expenses without using reserve funds.
The council vote followed a brief public hearing attended by fewer than 10 residents, of which only two spoke to the council, both in opposition to the increase.
Lorin Myers said he wanted the council to think about residents who live on fixed incomes.
"Just trying to raise a small garden in my backyard to help with the food for my wife and I, well — when that water bill in July and August comes to $100, it really hits us hard," Myers said.
Susie Collins agreed.
"I, too, am on a fixed income," she said, "and I try very, very hard to conserve as much water as I can. "¦ But I, too, have a small garden. So, $4 plus the consumption is going to be quite a hefty kick in the pants."
"It really hurts. I agree with you," said Mayor Bob Russell. "It's a big jump and I think that as a council we've learned to take a real focused look every year at this and not have to raise rates so significantly, but when you go 10 years without raising rates "¦"
"We've got to pay for it," interjected Councilman Wayne Brown.
The council also received recommendations from Garrett Pallo, president of Civil West Engineering Services, on how to update the city's 11-year-old Water Master Plan.
Pallo said the highest priorities include building a 1.6 million-gallon reservoir to enhance or replace the 200,000-gallon reservoir currently serving a small southern portion of the city.
"Graphs of the tank levels for May show the tank is struggling to stay full," Pallo said. "We're predicting a dry summer with a lot of water use, and that neighborhood is vastly underserved."
The council will be working through Pallo's recommendations over the coming months.
In its final action of the night, the council terminated a 70-year-old water-line easement running through a property on Alta Vista Drive. The easement was for a line built by the U.S. Army during World War II between Camp White, today's Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics, and a 4 million-gallon reservoir on a hill in Eagle Point.
After the war, the water line and other Army properties were given to the city. The 4 million-gallon reservoir was refurbished and became part of the Eagle Point water network in 2009.
Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at email@example.com.