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Gold Hill gives initial OK to water upgrades, fee hikes

GOLD HILL — City officials say efforts to bring antiquated sewer and water facilities up to par mean the city will pull $1.9 million more into its budget, and residential customers will pay an additional $12 per month.

Budget committee members last week approved, pending final adoption, a total $4.3 million budget.

The 79 percent jump over last year's $2.4 million budget hinges on a state grant that City Manager Rick Hohnbaum said would go into overhauling the city wastewater collection and treatment system.

"Without the wastewater collection project, our budget is about the same, or slightly less, than last year," Hohnbaum said, noting that while the city had not yet applied for the grant, state officials invited the city to do so.

Repair and replacement options are being studied by engineers, while a no-build option would involve a pipeline to send the city's waste to another municipality — at a cost of more than $7 million.

Hohnbaum said the fee increases are necessary to get the support of the state.

"We can't even apply for grants and loans unless we convince the state we can step up to the plate and be responsible for the system and charge the right amount," he said.

The budget calls for base rates for water to increase from $27.21 to $29 and sewer from $38.82 to $48. A new stormwater fee of $1.50 would apply to each customer.

Budget committee member Cindy Warwick acknowledged that with the small town's relatively low per-capita income, the rate hike would be difficult for some residents to manage. However, she said, costs would only continue to rise if needed improvements aren't made.

"This is just something that we have needed to do for a long time," Warwick said. "It's time to put politics and everything aside and take care of the things we need to take care of."

Budget committee member Deb West, who voted against the proposed budget, said she understood the city's need for infrastructure repairs, but felt a $12 monthly rate hike was "too much all at once."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.