Need for master water plan emphasized
by Steve Howe
At the regular meeting of the Hines Common Council Tuesday, March 10, discussion continued on the need for increased water base rates to fund necessary improvements to the city’s water and sewer system. No votes were held on the issue.
At the previous meeting on Feb. 24, it was reported that water base rates would need to be increased in order for the city to qualify for loans and grants through the Infrastructure Finance Authority (IFA) to fund the needed improvements.
Mayor Nikki Morgan told a crowded room Tuesday evening that the original figure of $46 per month (water base rate) quoted in the city newsletter and the Burns Times-Herald had actually decreased to around $34, after being recalculated with new information received in the past week. It was clarified that this would be the eventual rate the city would need to charge in order to be eligible for financing. Morgan said the first step toward determining appropriate water and sewer rates and identifying all the needed improvements was to pursue a “current and accurate” master water plan.
Doug Ferguson of Ferguson Surveying and Engineering (the city engineer) and Tawni Bean, regional coordinator for the Oregon Business Development Department, IFA, were present to help answer questions.
City Administrator Joan Davies began the discussion by guiding the audience through a packet of information that had been compiled and distributed to everyone present.
The packet included:
• Evaluations and recommendations from 2001 and 2002 regarding the state of the elevated water tank. Davies said the recommended repairs were never done;
• A 2002 engineer’s report detailing options and costs for the repair or replacement of the elevated water tank and construction of a new on-grade tank. Davies said this was never done;
• Historic ordinances pertaining to the setting of water and sewer rates. Davies said water base rates had not increased in 12 years. She said a 2006 resolution set multi-family unit rates, but a 2010 resolution deleted those. She could not find reference to why that was done;
• Hines Common Council meeting agendas and minutes highlighting water and sewer discussions and votes from Sept. 24, 2013 to the present;
• Copies of emails between Davies and Bean, showing the discussion on the necessity of increasing rates in order to qualify for loans and grants;
• The 2014 inspection report for the 250,000 gallon steel elevated water tank, and the 2015 repair report for the 600,000 gallon steel on-grade tank. The 2014 report said that the interior of the elevated tank needed sandblasting and that the concrete footings were crumbling. The 2015 report detailed the 27 leaks that were repaired in the on-grade tank, and indicated that it will have to be checked again in six months;
• An explanation from Ferguson Surveying & Engineering detailing why Hines needs a master water plan, as well as a 2014 memo regarding water issues in the city. In the explanation, Ferguson wrote:
“We need a master plan in order to identify all the problems in the system, determine a viable fix to those problems in a timely and orderly manner, and to identify a means to fund the fix to those problems;”
• Highlights of water and sewer-related actions and discussions dating back to 1931; and
• Superintendent of Public Works Pedro Zabala’s 2013-14 city water usage reports.
The discussion then opened to public comment, which included:
• A concern about using finances to improve infrastructure in the industrial area when there is no guarantee of a company coming in to use it. This is not part of any plan at this time, and Zabala commented that the industrial area’s water lines were in good condition and that the major issues were with residential areas;
• A recommendation that the city look to other, “non-governmental” places for loans, so rates are not “dictated.” Davies said the city is in regular contact with various funding sources, and the IFA is the only one that has responded with a chance to apply for a grant;
• A question about why easements are now needed on properties that water lines run under, when the city hasn’t had them all these years. It was explained that water lines run under unrelated properties, and the city has no legal rights to them;
• A comment that “most people in Hines have fixed incomes and/or are retired,” and would be adversely affected by the rate increase;
• A comment that vacant, bank-owned houses, although they don’t have water turned on, are not contributing toward funding maintenance and improvements on the overall system. Davies said there is no city authority to collect for not using water;
• A question about why residents couldn’t all “pitch in” and do the work (water and sewer improvements) to save money. Morgan responded that there is too much liability and the city doesn’t have workers’ compensation insurance for volunteers. Ferguson agreed, saying it just wasn’t possible these days.
Councilor Rod Bennett asked whether the price estimate for the master plan was still $50,000. He was told, yes, and that the estimate was based on similar plans in similar cities.
“And we don’t have the funds for that right now,” added Councilor Hilda Allison.
“However, we can get a loan to do the master plan, is that correct?” Bennett asked, addressing Bean.
“You can get a $20,000 grant, as well as you can come in for a $30,000 loan,” Bean said.
“And all we have to do is raise the water rates enough to cover the loan?” asked Bennett.
Bean responded “Yes.”
Following a comment from the audience about the city of Burns’ water and sewer enterprise fund, discussion ensued on whether an enterprise fee should be established to cover the potential loan to complete the master plan.
“Basically, with 600 meters, if we are looking at $30,000, we would need a $5 a month increase to cover the loan…and pay it off in a year,” said Bennett.
Davies mentioned she had already applied for the $20,000 grant, and asked Bean if an added enterprise fee would count toward the eventual rate needed to apply for future project financing.
Bean responded, “Yes, that will be a part of your rate already.”
The discussion extended into specifics of what improvements would need to be made, and whether multi-family rates needed to be raised.
Morgan concluded the discussion by reiterating that the master plan would address these subjects and determine what specifically needed to be charged:
“We’re not going to make any [of those] decisions tonight. Ultimately, we need the master plan.”
Davies reported on a special meeting of the Hines Planning Commission held March 3. At the meeting, the commission:
• Reviewed a land use permit given to the owners of the Hines Mobile Home Park, allowing them to add a mobile home. Davies said that they had wanted to put a double-wide on the south end of the park, but she advised them that it would be in the flood zone. Instead, they will place it on the northeast end;
• Reviewed and discussed requests for commercial zone changes. Davies said that there have been several inquiries from property owners regarding why their property is zoned commercial. There are also issues with properties that are multi-family zoned and have only single-family residences on them. Davies said she would start contacting property owners in affected areas to see what their preferences are, and once that is determined, begin the hearings process.
• Reviewed and recommended a flood prevention ordinance. Davies explained that all cities are mandated by law to have a flood prevention ordinance in place – without one, Hines would be ineligible for coverage by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which would prevent both the sale and purchase of properties that have to be financed. The commission unanimously voted to forward the ordinance to the council with a recommendation to approve. The council decided to hold off on a vote until the next meeting, in order to have more time to read and review the ordinance.
In her regular report, Davies said she and other members of the local air quality task force are continuing to work with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to find ways to manage the particulate levels in both cities.
She said she received news about a bill in the Oregon House of Representatives, HB 3399, that would require all municipal court judges to be members of the Oregon Bar or complete an expensive, multi-week judicial academy on-site in Reno, Nev.
“That would be devastating for the small cities,” said Davies. She added that she would write a letter to legislators describing how the bill would adversely affect Hines, and urge them to vote no.
Davies said that she, Hines Chief of Police Ryan DeLange and Hines Volunteer Fire Department (HVFD) Chief Bob Spence attended a “9-1-1 meeting” regarding dispatch service rates, which are set to double in the coming year.
“We have several meetings set up with the county judge, the sheriff, and all the other agencies affected by that,” said Davies.
Davies told councilors that a letter had been received from the Natural Resources Conversation Service (NRCS) inviting them to participate in a local work group meeting on March 12. The purpose of the meeting was to gather input for the development of the Natural Resources Long Range Strategy for fiscal years 2016-2020.
DeLange delivered his regular report. He said he was called away before the last council meeting to a stabbing. He added that the suspect is in custody and that the victim survived.
DeLange reported that during last month’s seatbelt blitz, there were 31 traffic stops and 11 citations.
Illegal drug use is out of control in both cities, especially methamphetamine, DeLange said. He added that law enforcement agencies are teaming up with Symmetry Care to fight the problem. DeLange and other officers have also started doing “walk-throughs” at schools to interact with students and teach them about the danger of drugs.
Zabala reported that his department has been busy checking manholes and cleaning sewers. He also thanked the city of Burns for sweeping streets in Hines recently.
Spence reported that there had been no 9-1-1 calls since the last council meeting. He said HVFD is continuing to do joint training with Burns Fire Department.
In other business, the council:
• approved per diem for DeLange to attend the annual Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Bend, April 14-16;
• approved per diem for councilors to attend “Elected Essentials 2015” training offered by the League of Oregon Cities March 19 in Ontario.
The next meeting of the Hines Common Council will be held Tuesday, March 24, at 6:30 p.m. at Hines City Hall.