Water Rate Increases Concern Umatilla Residents

Umatilla Annexes Land
The city of Umatilla annexed about 30 acres of land to allow Amazon subsidiary Vadata Inc., to construct a new data center within the city.

[quote style=”2″]Discounts Available for Eligible Residents[/quote]

Water and sewer rates again usurped discussion for the Umatilla City Council on Tuesday night.

In April, the council authorized a 20-percent increase in sewer and a 10-percent increase in water rates for city customers. It is the first time the city has increased the sewer rates in 16 years.

“We’re trying to do something to be responsible for the future,” Umatilla City Councilor Lyle Smith said Tuesday. “We can’t continue to live in the past.”

The increases will allow the city to rebuild reserve funds to replace aging infrastructure and cover any emergencies. The increased rates also bring the city back into eligibility requirements for bonds.

The rates will take effect in July, and city staff said the average residential user will see an increase of $10 per month.

Some residents spoke out Tuesday against the increased rates, highlighting those on fixed incomes who could not afford the $10 increase each month. City staff and council members pointed out Umatilla does offer two discounts for water bills, however, neither of which is being used.

Residents over the age of 65 are eligible for a senior discount – regardless of income. The discounted rate is equal to the city’s 2011 water and sewer rates, prior to the increases. Younger residents with an income less than 125 percent of poverty level can also receive the reduced rate.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 6.3 percent of Umatilla’s population is over 65. The city’s median household income is $44,000, and 16 percent of households are below poverty level.

Only one person has applied for the senior discount; no one has applied for the income-based hardship discount.

“It’s there to be used. It’s there for our most fragile citizens on fixed income and they’re not taking advantage of it,” Smith said. “We’ve offered to keep their rates the same.”

Seniors present at the meeting supported increasing awareness of the discount program.

“I’m pushing 69, I’m working two jobs and right now I’m not hurting over the $10 a month, but if either of us loses our job, things are going to tighten up pretty quick,” John Nichols said. “It’s a good thing to have.”

Any city resident can apply for the discounts. Seniors must present proof of age, along with a completed application. Those applying for the hardship discount must provide recent tax documents to prove income.

Applications are available at Umatilla City Hall, 700 Sixth St.

In other business:

• Mayor Pat Lafferty read a proclamation for Police Week and Police Officers’ Memorial Day. The week honors those who protect and serve, such as police officers and correctional employees.

“I was honored to give a proclamation up at TRCI on Monday. It was an honor, as this is,” Lafferty said. “I want to thank (Police Chief) Darla (Huxel) and all her staff. You’re doing a great job.”

• Council granted City Manager Bob Ward permission to investigate the potential purchase of land north of Umatilla Landing Park. Ward said the property does include railroad right-of-way across the Umatilla River.

• Ward said the Old Town Site Committee had its first meeting last week. The committee, dedicated to planning for the historic site along the Columbia River, will meet twice a month to form a Memorandum of Understanding between members, including the city of Umatilla, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

• Police Chief Darla Huxel announced the city has received a $24,000 grant to launch a summer program for G.R.E.A.T. – Gang Resistance Education and Training. The program will kick off in June with weekly programs for students and families.

“We were awarded that specifically because we are the only city and school district in Umatilla County that provides the G.R.E.A.T program,” Huxel said. “It’s a pretty substantial grant.”