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Ashland City Council to weigh utility-bill increases

The Ashland City Council will decide whether to approve rate hikes that together would increase the average resident's utility bills by $10 per month, and will take public input on a proposed Normal Neighborhood Plan.

The council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St.

Councilors will consider 10 percent increases in water and sewer rates, a 3.6 percent electricity rate increase and 2.6 percent increases in storm drain and transportation utility fees.

Together with an uptick in the electric users' tax, the rate increases would cause the average resident's monthly utility bills to rise from $157.14 to $167.35, an increase of $10.21 each month, according to city staff estimates.

Increases would go into effect on July 1.

Water rates are projected to double between 2012 and 2022 as Ashland undertakes major water system infrastructure projects.

With historically low snowpack in the hills above town, Ashland is racing to complete the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix water pipeline to bring Medford water to Ashland by mid-August.

Estimated costs to finish the pipeline, which already stretches to Talent, have jumped from $2.3 million to as much as $4.3 million.

The smaller TAP budget had already been factored into the projections that water rates must double by 2022. To keep water rates from spiking even more, Ashland will delay some water system projects past 2023 and work to secure a low-interest state loan to cover increased TAP costs.

The sewage system is faced with infrastructure and regulatory costs, while the Ashland Electric Department has falling reserve funds and higher costs for personal services, materials and Bonneville Power Administration wholesale power and transmission charges, according to city staff.

In other business on Tuesday night, the council will hear public testimony and consider taking the first step in adopting the Normal Neighborhood Plan.

The plan would guide future development of 94 acres located between Main Street to the north and the railroad tracks to the south, and from Clay Street to the east to Ashland Middle School to the west.

The plan calls for a mix of housing types and businesses that are appropriate to neighborhoods, such as coffee shops and restaurants.

Under the plan, 28 percent of the land would remain as open space through the creation of conservation areas.

"The Normal Neighborhood Plan is a blueprint for promoting a variety of housing types while preserving open spaces, stream corridors, wetlands, and other significant natural features," the plan states.

Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.