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Gold Hill water costs up for debate

GOLD HILL — A $2.30 monthly water bill surcharge, as well as an additional rate hike, may be in store for city residents in coming months.

With just 450 residences connected to the city-run water system, the Gold Hill City Council will hold an Aug. 3 public hearing to discuss how to pay for maintenance and operations.

A surcharge would be used to pay down a loan taken out years ago for roughly $200,000 in work during removal of the city's diversion dam along the Rogue River. Currently, the loan is being repaid at a rate of $15,000 per year from the city's operating and maintenance fund.

It's not supposed to be coming out of that pot of money, said Councilwoman Christine Alford.

"Basically, we did not make all the necessary increases we were supposed to over the years, so now we have to figure out how to pay everything," she said.

Additionally, a water-rate study, funded with $8,000 from the city's systems-development fund, is being conducted by the Oregon Water Users and Utilities Commission. Alford said results of the study should be available in coming months to determine whether a water-rate hike would be warranted.

While times are tight, Alford said the council and residents are responsible for funding the water system.

"I see no sense in anybody blaming the council for the water rates. It's not a proposition that anybody would think was reasonable for 450 homeowners to own their own water system, but we do, so that's why it takes careful monitoring and adequate funding," Alford said.

"We obviously want to make sure the rates don't skyrocket out of control, but the public has to be fair," she said. "They have to listen to us and the council so we can fill them in on what's what."

The city of Gold Hill, with fewer accounts to bill, has a higher basic charge for water than most cities in the Rogue Valley. The base fee in Gold Hill is $16.75. Medford residents pay a base fee of $7; Eagle Point and Jacksonville residents, $10; Talent and Ashland, $12.

The surcharge would bring the city rate to just over $19.

Usage-based fees also might go up, Alford said.

Councilwoman Judi Holdeman said she supports "whatever is necessary."

"We have to do something, and you know, all I can say is it's too bad that it's going to be a couple dollars a month extra," Holdeman said.

"Our water may be more expensive than in other towns, but we're a smaller town and we have excellent water," she said. "I'd rather pay a couple, three dollars more a month than not have water.

"This is the price of having water "¦ . It's the cost of being on the planet," she said.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.