Council chooses to close city hall on Fridays
by Randy Parks
After several months of meetings and proposals, the Hines Common Council voted to accept the water rate increases proposed by City Engineer Doug Ferguson at their meeting on Thursday, Sept. 24.
Before Ferguson presented his proposal, City Administrator Joan Davies gave a brief review of the city’s water rates since 1992. She said that in 1992, the monthly base service charge for a 3/4” line, the most common in the city, was $18, and the current rate is $19. At one point in the 23-year time span the rate did go up to $21, but it was dropped back to back $19 in 2010. Davies added that in 1992, the council was advised that the rate should be $28.95 per month to keep the system solvent.
Ferguson told the council his proposal was what it would take to operate the present water system. He said the proposal doesn’t include any money for capital improvements or major breakdowns, which will need to be addressed in the future.
Based on the number of services and the potential performance of a 5/8-3/4” service, the recommended amount increases from $19 to $24 per month.
The 5/8-3/4” rate for out-of-town residences increases from $24 to $29, and for low-income residences, the rate goes from $12.15 to $17.
The ascending larger meter rates also increase, based on an American Water Works Association formula.
The proposal also recommended an increase on water use from $0.002 per cubic foot to $0.004 per cubic foot, which amounts to $0.534 per 1,000 gallons. Ferguson said the water use rate is reasonable, but it’s also high enough to encourage water conservation, which is needed. He said with the winter months coming up, residents won’t be using as much water as they do in the warmer months, and probably won’t notice the increase right away.
Ferguson’s proposal would bring in an estimated $318,332 for the city.
Ferguson stated the next step is to complete the water master plan, hopefully by the spring of 2016. The plan will identify the water system’s strengths and weaknesses, determine improvement needs, and what the costs will be for the improvements.
Councilor Rod Bennett stated the committee set up to study proposed water rates had submitted a proposal that would bring in more money for the city.
Ferguson replied that the city’s legal counsel didn’t approve the committee’s proposal, and that it wouldn’t work. “I was directed to do a fair rate study, and that’s what I did,” Ferguson said. “Using meter rates is as fair as we’re going to get.”
Bennett said he had a problem with the increase to $0.004 per cubic foot when there is no master plan in place.
“You can do anything you want, this is my recommendation,” Ferguson said.
Councilor Dick Baird said he was concerned about residents on fixed incomes not being able to afford the increases.
“We have to have this money or we’re going to come to a halt,” Ferguson said. “You came up with a plan and the attorney doesn’t like it. I agonized to get a plan that will work, and you guys don’t like it.”
“Doubling (the water use rate) sounds terrible, but it’s not that much on average,” Davies said. “We’re talking pennies or small dollars. And the city does have programs to help residents. We have to have it. He (Ferguson) did it and the attorney approved it.”
Davies added the city has had two water main breaks in recent days and “it’s not getting any better.”
The council voted unanimously to approve the resolution setting the new water rates, with the omission of an automatic 2 percent increase each year.
The council reviewed a proposal to close city hall on Fridays throughout the winter months to save costs.
Baird said he was against the idea because city hall has always been open five days a week and “we owe it to our citizens.”
After some discussion, the council voted 3-2 in favor of having city hall closed on Fridays from Oct. 1 until Feb. 28 at the discretion of the city administrator to make adjustments if necessary. Councilors Bennett, Ron Williams and Hilda Allison voted in favor of the motion, with Baird and John Mims voting against.
In other business:
• the council voted to accept a bid from TopLoc Asphalt in the amount of $34,490 for crack sealing and hole patching work on city streets. Williams abstained from voting as he is the owner of TopLoc;
• the council approved business licenses for Burri Construction, owned by Jon Burri, and Wright Taxi and Transport, formerly Elite Taxi, now operated by Pat Wright;
• Davies reported the auditors were in town the previous week and everything looked good, and the auditors had mentioned Rachael Robinson’s work at city hall had been “perfect.” Davies said the city had purchased air quality flags, green and yellow, to fly during wood-stove burning season to keep residents aware of air quality standards.
Davies announced the Department of Environmental Quality would be holding a household hazardous waste event from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, at Burns High School. Residents can take any old paint, antifreeze, fluorescent tubes, pool chemicals, etc. to the high school for free disposal;
• the council voted to pay for mileage costs for Captain Dave Riess to attend fire training in John Day.
The next meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13, at city hall.