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Medford ponders utility fee hike

MEDFORD — The Medford Public Works director will ask the City Council Thursday whether utility fees ought to be hiked beginning in 2010 to help cover about $3 million in utility expenses that are now subsidized by the city's general fund.

"There are several things that the fees don't pay for that it has been suggested they should pay for," said Cory Crebbin, the city's public works director. "I'll be asking the council which of those things should be paid for with the fees."

Currently, the city's general fund pays for the bulk of public works salaries, other staff time dedicated to public works finance, administration and personnel, office space and increases in street maintenance costs, which have climbed faster than utility fees.

The total public works utility fee of $20.48, including street maintenance, sewer and storm water, is already scheduled to go up under city ordinance. The rates for each service increase in separate years, 2009, 2010 and 2011, respectively.

Any additional increase would happen gradually between 2010 and 2014, Crebbin said.

The public works utility fee does not include public safety, water or city parks.

Crebbin is scheduled to discuss the matter with the council at a study session at noon Thursday at the Lausmann Annex, 200 S. Ivy St., in Medford.

Under the proposal, the utility fee for a single family residence would rise from $23.30 in 2010 to $34.90 in 2014.

Any enhancement in state funding to the city's public works, such as revenue from a possible state gas tax, would be subtracted from any rate increases, Crebbin said.

Even with fee increases, utility rates would continue to be lower than those of many cities around the state, Crebbin said.

In a survey of Oregon cities two years ago by Black & Veatch, of Overland Park, Kan., Medford's $15-per-month residential sewer rate was the second lowest in the state, bested only by the city of Pilot Rock. Salem's rate was $61, four times Medford's rate.

"It is a bargain," Crebbin said. "The one caveat is that in most places residential subsidizes commercial and industrial; Medford doesn't. We charge users based on their actual use."

The increase in revenue would make Medford Public Works virtually self-sufficient.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.