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Utility rate hikes on council agenda

The city of Ashland will consider increasing utility rates in its regular City Council session on Tuesday, May 2.

The council had previously asked staff to bring back a proposal to raise rates by roughly $1.75 per month to finance increased police staffing by five positions. While that proposal remains on the table, possible utility rate increases up for discussion Tuesday are be separate and apart from that.

On the agenda is an increase averaging 6.9 percent in electric rates to cover possible greater costs of service by the Bonneville Power Administration and costs of operations, which includes personnel, materials and services and budgeted capital projects, according to the city of Ashland website.

The typical residential electric customer will be looking at increases of roughly $7.33 per month.

The council will also be considering raising water, sewer and storm drain fees. The breakdown goes like this per month for the average residential customer: 4.5 percent water rate increase, a 5 percent waste water hike and a 2.4 percent storm drain fee increase. It comes to about $9.40 per month for the average customer.

Put it all together and it’s about $16.73 per month, per customer.

The city staff recommends this hike in order to “support maintenance, operations and capital expenditures to fund maintenance and to maintain regulatory compliance,” according to the council agenda support materials.

If approved, the new rates will become effective July 1.

The city of Ashland increased utility rates in 2015 amounting to $11.62, or a 6.95 percent increase. Electric rates were also increased in January 2013 by $3.45 each month. In 2012, the council approved a 12.7 percent water-bill hike and 10 percent sewer rate increase.

In four years, utility rates have increased by more than $20 per month per customer, according to the increases voted on by the council on its website and minutes of meetings.

Part of the reasons for the increase appear to be rising wholesale power and electricity transmission charges from the BPA. In addition, the Ashland Electric Department must share a part of the Ashland Fiber Network’s debt burden, according to administrators.

The council will also consider appointing an interim city recorder now that long-time Recorder Barbara Christensen retired effective Friday. Three resumes have been submitted, in addition to an internal candidate who applied. The recorder position by City Charter is elected, but since the elected official stepped down prior to the end of her term the city can fill the position within 60 days, with the interim recorder serving until the next election. The council had discussed putting a measure before voters to make the position appointed in the future by changing the charter but has not adopted such a plan as of yet.

The Ashland City Council meets for its regular business meeting at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers at 1175 East Main St.. Council meetings are also broadcast live on Charter Cable Channel 180 and streamed on the RVTV website.

— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.