Electricity rates in Ashland will go up by 4 percent effective Oct. 20 after an Ashland City Council majority voted on Tuesday night to approve the increase.

Electricity rates in Ashland will go up by 4 percent effective Oct. 20 after an Ashland City Council majority voted on Tuesday night to approve the increase.

The move came after the Bonneville Power Administration, which wholesales electricity to the city of Ashland's electric utility, announced a 9.5 percent rate increase of its own.

"We're faced with costs that we have absolutely no control over," Councilor Russ Silbiger said.

Silbiger and council members David Chapman, Mike Morris and Dennis Slattery voted for the rate increase, while council members Carol Voisin and Greg Lemhouse voted against it.

Voisin said she would like to see an electricity rate structure that rewards conservation, while Lemhouse said the city government should be cutting spending in other areas to avoid utility bill increases.

The 4 percent electric bill increase comes on top of a 10 percent water rate hike that took effect in May and a 6 percent sewer bill increase that took effect in June.

At the Tuesday meeting, the Jackson County Fuel Committee advocated that councilors not raise rates, and that Ashland adopt a November through March moratorium on electricity service cut-offs for unpaid bills. Additionally, the nonprofit urged waivers on electricity reconnection fees for people with incomes less than 200 percent over the poverty line.

Council members didn't adopt those recommendations, but they did direct city staff members to prepare a report on the assistance the city government gives to low income, disabled and elderly people. Councilors also want to know whether an uptick in electricity service cut-offs occurs.

For the past two years, the city of Ashland has run out of allocated funds for electricity bill assistance help, Ashland Finance and Administrative Services Director Lee Tuneberg said.

In some years, the city has had money left over, he said.

Tuneberg said city staff work to help qualifying electricity customers get city help when it is available, or to direct them to other sources of help, such as local agencies and religious groups.

BPA said the main drivers of wholesale power rate increases are needed upgrades and maintenance to the hydroelectric system, fuel purchases for the region's only nuclear plant, and dam and habitat improvements for salmon and steelhead.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.