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Ashland considers sewer rate

ASHLAND ' Sewer rates may increase to free up meals tax revenues to buy parks, trails and open space.

Parks and recreation commissioners will review the committee proposal when they meet at 7 p.m. Monday in council chambers at the Civic Center, 1175 E. Main St. If they OK it, it would have to be approved by the City Council. Voters would have the final say on a shift in the food and beverage tax.

Sewer fees would increase 15 percent for the average residential customer from &

36;15.27 per month to &

36;17.56 per month. The fee would go to wastewater treatment plant expenses.

We think this is a very reasonable price to pay for what we are getting, said commission Chairman Rick Landt.

The amount of the 5 percent food and beverage tax that goes to land purchases would increase from 20 percent to 40 percent.

Besides changes in sewer rates and food and beverage tax distribution, a committee also recommended increases in the parks portion of system development charges to reflect higher land costs. Landt estimated the increase would be about 30 percent

A recent update of the city's open space plan identified 11 pieces of land for acquisition over the next 10 years. The additions would add 55 acres and 10 miles of trails to the parks system. All money for land purchases that the tax will generate until it expires in 2010 has been spoken for.

I'm concerned about the increase in rates for the sewers. We have to look at what the community can afford, said Councilwoman Susan Reid. Electric rates will continue to increase, adding to residents' burdens, she said.

Parks maintenance also needs consideration, said Reid.

We need to have a plan in place (for parks maintenance) before we talk about new parks, said Reid. Trails are different, but I think we have to be very careful that we don't buy more than we can maintain.

Voters passed the food and beverage tax in 1993. Tax revenue will yield &

36;327,000 for open space purchases and &

36;1.3 million for the wastewater treatment plant this year.

Plant upgrades have cost the city about &

36;33 million. Current tax revenue now falls a little short of the plant's debt service, but should be equal to the &

36;1.6 million that will be required in 2010 when the tax expires, said Lee Tuneberg, city finance director. Debt payments continue until 2022.

In our rate model we have anticipated (sewer rate) increases in coming years to help in 2010, so there wouldn't be a big change, said Tuneberg. Those changes would have to go on top of the 15 percent.

The city has 5,992 single-family residential customers that pay an average of &

36;15.27 a month and 3,161 multi-family units that pay an average of &

36;12.48 per month. The 608 commercial accounts pay an average of &

36;77.58 per month. All together, a 15 percent increase would generate &

36;320,826 annually.

Reach Ashland bureau reporter Tony Boom at 482-4651, or e-mail