Medford postpones decision on more utility fee increases

Another utility fee increase proposed by the city may be too much for Medford City Council after it recently voted to increase rates to pay for new police and fire stations.

"I don't know who's sick of raising fees more — the public or the council," Councilor Chris Corcoran said.

Proposed boosts that were delayed

Sewers: $1.60 in 2014, and 81 cents in 2015.

Storm drains: $1.23 in 2014, and 63 cents in 2015.

Street feeS: 80 cents in 2014, and 46 cents in 2015.

The city was on track to raise utility fees each year for five years beginning in 2009 so the Public Works Department would not have to dip into the general fund to pay for an ongoing street maintenance program.

However, the council raised utility fees $2 a month for an average household to pay for $32 million in bonds to build a new police station and three new firehouses.

"I'm getting the feeling that residents are tapped out," Corcoran said.

At the same time, Corcoran and other council members want to find a way to continue ongoing street maintenance to avoid even more costly repairs in the future. If the city didn't have the street maintenance program, residents could be looking at a significant bond measure in the future to pay for the repaving.

The city was set to raise fees again for the next two years, which would have added more than $3 million annually to the Public Works budget for street and utility maintenance.

For sewers, the proposed increase would amount to $1.60, or 16 percent, in 2014, and 81 cents, or 7 percent, in 2015.

Storm drains would increase $1.23, or 16 percent, in 2014, and 63 cents in 2015.

Street fees would increase 80 cents, or 9.5 percent, in 2014, and 46 cents, or 5 percent, in 2015.

By 2015 under the new fees, the city would collect $1.3 million for sewers, $1 million for storm drains and $1.1 million for streets.

The council decided to postpone a decision on the fees until January. City officials hope that contributions to the state Public Employees Retirement System won't be as high as expected, providing additional money for Public Works.

Councilor Eli Matthews said the timing for the fees couldn't be worse.

"It's a lot to bear for the citizens right now," he said.

Matthews said he suspects the council would have gotten an earful from local residents if the fees had been increased last week.

Matthews said the council might find a way to delay the new fees by dipping into other revenue sources for the time being.

To avoid even greater costs in the future, Matthews said, the council needs to strike a balance between raising fees and providing the services residents expect.

In general, Matthews said, he doesn't object to raising fees, particularly for something as important as road maintenance.

"It's how much and when," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm.

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