GOLD HILL — Council members will give final review of a $2.26 million budget on Monday that, if approved, would bring an increase to water and sewer rates for a second year in a row.
While city officials saw no changes to revenues or expenses over last year's $2.28 million budget, a mandate by state officials to remedy issues at a failing wastewater treatment plant has put special emphasis on wastewater needs for the next three to five years.
In addition, the need for eventual repair or replacement of two of the city's three water reservoirs is an increasing concern.
With operation expenses not being met last year for water and sewer system operational costs, city officials approved a near $14 combined monthly increase to the two fees.
If city officials approve the 2013-2014 budget on Monday residents would see an added 3.5 percent hike to water and sewer base rates of just under $1 each.
City manager Rick Hohnbaum said city officials anticipate $1 million in expenses to either replace, repair or outsource the city's wastewater treatment needs.
Following a slew of state and federal standard violations dating back as far as 1995, the city was put on notice last year that it must remedy the issues.
While federal and state Department of Environmental Quality officials had warned the city for nearly two decades that the facility was not being operated according to design, increasingly high levels of contaminants discharged into the Rogue River prompted state officials to threaten steep fines if a course of action is not defined by December.
With an agreement in place shortly after warnings were issues, city officials are anticipating both short- and long-term needs for the facility. Consultants are conducting a study to determine whether repair, replacement or outsourcing is the city's best option.
Hohnbaum said, other than focusing on wastewater needs, the city's budget is not unlike recent years, with much of the general fund used to cover the city's six employees.
Proposed park projects include a $5,000 dog park, a $3,000 water fountain for Library Park and $3,000 in water system improvements at the city baseball field.
"I think the city is in a good place as it relates to the budget. We're not in a position to fund law enforcement or anything like that, but the budget is healthier than it's been in the recent past," said Hohnbaum.
"The city's wastewater system obviously needs some serious catch up, so we're using the little bit of savings we have to band-aid our current system, and we're focusing on long-term solutions as well."
Mayor Jan Fish said she saw no real issues with the proposed budget.
While she acknowledged city water and sewer rates are among the region's highest, she said providing water and sewer services to such a small customer base is bound to come with expense.
"I think we're pretty much on task. Other than water and wastewater, everything is pretty copasetic to last year," Fish said.
"Unfortunately we only have about 450 households and businesses to foot the bill."
Fish noted that the water and wastewater increases would help rebuild reserve funds used for unexpected needs at the facility outside the scope of eventual replacement or repair.
"Right now, we're on track with state DEQ requirements but there's no question that we're going to have to take out a really big loan, regardless of what the contractors say we should do," Fish said.
"They're offering us options to choose from but there's no question it will be a big ticket."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.