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Council weighs water fees increase

Increases are proposed in Talent for basic water rate fees and for system development charges for water hookups that are assessed on new construction. The Talent City Council will consider measures that would enact both when it meets at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 19, at Talent City Hall, 206 E. Main St.

SDC hookups would increase 61% to $5,185 for a residence. Basic water rates for the first 3,000 gallons would increase by $2.64 monthly in the coming fiscal year to $19.79.

“The current (water) rates are not even really covering our operating costs at this point,” said City Manager Sandra Speclliscy. “It’s a necessary increase that has been put off for too long.”

Talent residents last saw a water rate increase in 2016 to $16.14 from $12, with inflationary increases added since.

SDC’s have had only inflationary increases since the rate was set in 2004 at $2,495, about half of what was recommended in the Water Master Plan at that time.

“It’s hard to go the public and justify there’s going to be a big increase in water rates, but it’s not going to be a huge increase,” said Spelliscy.

A public hearing will be held on the SDC rate increase ordinance. While no public hearing is set on the water rate increase resolution, residents may comment on the proposal under council rules of conduct.

A Water Master Plan update prepared by RH2 Engineering earlier this year for the council addressed system financial issues as well as infrastructure needs to accommodate growth. Hanford Economic Consulting, which did the financial component, recommended making a change in the way the SDCs are assessed and increasing fees for new customers hooking up to the system. The SDCs are paid when building permits are obtained.

The SDC charge is currently $3,321. In 2004, a charge of $4,990 was recommended, but the council chose to set the amount that year at $2,495. Rates are for a single-family residential unit. Users can pay up to $30,464 for a connection with a 10-inch meter. SDC charges for a residential hookup is $5,214 in Ashland for a 2,000-square-foot home.

Among factors driving the increases are a planned new reservoir, debt service for the 2000 connection to the Medford Water Commission supply, low per-capita water consumption, system operating costs and meeting future capital improvement.

A water line for the new reservoir on Helms Road was completed earlier this year by Table Rock Excavation at a cost of $556,000. The project’s second phase, construction of an above-ground 2.5 million-gallon tank, has not yet gone out to bid, Spelliscy reported.

In July 2008, the council reduced water rates by $4 per hookup to offset the cost of surcharges on water bills for other city services, according to a staff report.

Over the next five years, the basic monthly water rate would increase to $22.11 per month, a $4.96 increase over current rates. Additional usage is charged at a rate of $4.99 per gallon up to 6,000 gallons.

“The town has pretty conservative water usage. We average 6,000 gallons per unit, which is good for consumers. Obviously, they are saving money,” said Spelliscy. State of Oregon calculations estimates a typically residence in the state uses 7,500 gallons per month.

Figures for 6,000 gallon-per-month usage shows Talent residents would pay $34.75 per month under the new rates, compared to $38.07 in Phoenix, $32.59 in Eagle Point, $21.76 in Central Point and $52.73 in Ashland.

The city water system has just over 2,000 customers, and more than 80% are single-family residences. Salaries, overtime payment and benefits comprise 36% of the annual water fund expenses; debt service is 21%; wholesale water purchases are 18%; and materials and services consume 16%.

In other business Wednesday, the council will consider adoption of the city budget for fiscal year 2019-20 after holding a public hearing.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Talent City Hall.