Hines rates set to increase over six-month period
by Steve Howe
At the regular meeting of the Hines Common Council Feb. 24, the council discussed the need for the city to immediately raise base water rates, in order to be able to apply for loans or grants through the Infrastructure Finance Authority (IFA) for desperately-needed water and sewer improvement projects. Base rates will be raised gradually from the current $38 per two-month billing period to $92 by the July-August billing (adding $18 in March-April, $18 in May-June, and $18 in July-August).
City Administrator Joan Davies told the council that in applying for the funds to help pay for a Master Water Plan, she was informed by IFA that in order to qualify for loans or grants, the city must be charging a minimum base water rate. Davies explained that the rate is determined by taking the median income for Hines ($36,706, based on the 2010 U.S. Census), dividing it by 12 months, and taking 1.5 percent of that figure. This gives the rate of $45.88 per month, or $91.76 per two-month billing period. Davies said the city has been charging $19 per month since June 2010.
“It’s not a choice,” said Davies. “We have terrible things wrong with our water system that have got to be fixed. We have no money to do it with. So the only way we get money is through a loan, and we won’t get a loan unless we raise rates.”
Davies said that the IFA recommended making the increase in steps, in order to make the transition easier.
“But it’s not easier, if you have to reach that total before a loan will be approved. We have people who struggle at $19, and they are going to have to pay $46,” said Davies.
She said both water towers need to be fixed, lines need to be moved, and meters need to be replaced.
Superintendent of Public Works Pedro Zabala also stressed the need for improvements.
“Our water is very good. But if you don’t get these water lines in place, Hines will never grow and sustain industry,” he said.
Davies agreed, adding that the city would be unable to even maintain the lines without obtaining loans. She detailed a dire situation:
“We have fixed 24 holes and one active leak in the ground reservoir. The foundation of the elevated tower is deteriorating. It’s a mess inside – the water’s good, but it was built in 1928. We have lines crossing through private property without easements. We have a huge line going from the elevated tower to the King Street development, through private property, with no easement. That’s thousands in attorney fees, much less construction money.”
Zabala reported in detail on the dive team from Inland Potable that fixed a leak at the ground reservoir on the hill, and cleaned and applied epoxy to 24 rust nodules, which had the potential to leak. A portion of the video taken by the team was shown. He said that a small, active leak developed later, and that Inland Potable recommended that they come back in the fall to check the tower again.
Councilor Hilda Allison asked Zabala if the dive team felt good about the fixes they made. He said that they had just addressed the rust nodules, and that there was no way they could repair the damage to the bottom of the tank that occurred either in shipping or during the erection of the reservoir. Zabala and Councilor Loren Emang described a coating that could be applied to the bottom of the tank to remedy the situation, but the cost of the project had not been discussed. Both Zabala and Emang had talked to the Inland Potable divers, who described the tank as the “mobile home” of water tanks. They said it was not designed for long-term use, and was not a good choice because of its bolted seams.
Zabala reminded the council that he had sent out 56 water meter heads for repair or replacement in December. He said he still doesn’t have them back, because these types of meters are back-ordered at the company. While reading meters that day, he said that 50 to 60 more showed they had stopped working.
Davies reported on her discussions with a property owner about buying a lot that the maintenance crew needs to cross in order to access a sewer line for clean-outs. She said that the seller proposed a new idea: if the city agrees to clear brush from both of the lots the seller has for sale, he will give the city an easement for one year, as well as the right of first refusal to buy the lot for $25,000. The other condition given was that a ditch that had been diverted across the southernmost lot years ago be piped and backfilled to grade. It was the general consensus of the council that these terms would be the most logical way to go.
Davies also reported that she was hosting a meeting the next day with the Department of Environmental Quality and various local agencies in a continuation of efforts to educate the public on limiting outdoor burning and keeping smoke particulates at a level that does not violate the Environmental Protection Agency limits.
Davies said on Friday she would attend a 911 board meeting, along with Hines Police Chief Ryan DeLange, to discuss dispatch costs for the city next year.
She advised the council that the cans and bottles fund for park improvements is now at $3,995.22.
Bob Seymour of Guyer & Associates in Baker City, was in attendance to provide a summary of the 2013-14 financial audit of the city. The audit had been delayed because of fixed assets that had been valued incorrectly years ago. He presented the opinion of the audit, which was positive.
“It’s a clean opinion,” he said. “It means that the financial statements fairly reflect the financial position of the city of Hines.”
Chelsea Harrison, Harney County Chamber of Commerce director, was in attendance. She reported that registration for the John Scharff Bird Festival had been opened two weeks prior and that 125 people had already signed up. Harrison said two new tours had been added this year, and were already sold out. She said they have new flags with children’s art on them to advertise the festival. She said she plans on placing eight of them along the highway in front of the golf course, and wanted to be sure they would not be in the way of the city maintenance crew.
Becky Cunningham of Rimrock Recycling was in attendance to update the council on recent news, and to ask for a letter of support for a grant application. She said the recycling center sees between 32 and 50 cars per day, volunteers have donated more than 6,000 hours, and 220 tons of material have been processed and 51 refrigerators have been drained.
Cunningham said that because of the recent longshoreman’s union work slow-down at West Coast ports, they have been unable to ship out any material for the past few weeks. She said that they are continuing to stay open, with an all-volunteer staff.
“Hopefully in a month or two we’ll be back to shipping and back to having income,” said Cunningham.
In other business, the council:
• heard from Allison regarding the project to purchase the Oregon & Northwestern train engine that originally ran in Hines. She said that things have been delayed due to people’s busy schedules, but that at the next meeting on Tuesday, March 3, the group will refocus its efforts. Funds currently total almost $4,000, and around $70,000 will be needed to get the engine bought, transported and set up at Hines Park;
• approved travel expenses for Hines Police Department officers to attend Child Forensic Interview Training, with registration paid by the district attorney. The training is required for law enforcement officers to work on cases involving children;
• heard from Hines Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bob Spence that his department had responded to four 911 calls since the last meeting, and that three individuals had completed Part C of Winter Fire School, achieving their Firefighter I certifications;
• approved accounts payable for Jan. 27, Feb. 10 and Feb. 24, in the amounts of $9,803.25, $6,514.87 and $17,804.78, respectively. The council also approved the payment of $5,196.51 to Inland Potable for the service and repair of the water tower.
• passed Resolution 2195, funding workers’ compensation coverage for volunteers, an annual cost;
• passed Resolution 2196 instituting an annual loss prevention program;
• approved a franchise agreement with Charter Communications;
• appointed Davies as budget officer.