Beginning in March, Hermiston residents and businesses will be paying more for water and sewer services after the Hermiston City Council voted unanimously to raise rates on Monday night.
The council, however, says a restructuring of the rates will make it more equitable by making those who use more water pay more for the service compared to those who use less.
Hermiston Assistant City Manager Mark Morgan said the city is moving from its current declining schedule to an inclining schedule. Declining schedules mean customers pay less for subsequent units of water whereas an inclining schedule means customers pay more for using more units of water.
The rate increases stem from the fact that the city has a long list of capital improvement projects that its utility fund simply cannot cover, primarily due to the city paying $2 million each year in debt service for the recycled water treatment plant that went online in 2014.
Under the city’s new rate structure, water users will pay a basic charge of $30 per month and an additional 50 cents for every 1,000 gallons of water used up to 15,000 gallons. If they use more than 15,000 gallons in a month, they will pay $3.50 per 1,000 gallons after that. Morgan used his own home water usage as an example and figured he would pay an average of $18 more per month.
The new sewer rate structure will be $35 per month and an additional $3 for each $1,000 gallons of use based on winter usage (when folks aren’t watering their lawns). Morgan said his own bill for sewer service will go up a little more than $14 per month.
Morgan said the new rate structure will allow the city to charge customers more precisely for the water they use.
“The more you use, the more you’ll pay,” he said.
Morgan said even with the rate increases, Hermiston will be among the lowest third in terms of water and sewer rates among comparable cities.
“It would be nice to continue to kick the can down the road, but we have costs we have to contend with,” he said. For example, said Morgan, there are underground pipes in use that were installed decades ago and the city still uses a water pump control unit that was installed in the 1960s.
“We do have some failing infrastructure we have to manage and upgrade,” said Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann. “If we don’t improve and upgrade, then we have emergencies and where does the money come from?’
Drotzmann also said the new rate structure will encourage large water users to conserve more.