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City hikes sewer fee in January

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

November 22, 2006

The Hood River City Council is playing catch-up with sewer rates that have not increased for six years — but making the $10 adjustment to cover today’s costs in three phases.

In January, city residents will see a $4 addition to their monthly sewer bill, bringing the total from $36 to $40. The bill then rises to $44 in July of 2007 and $48 by July of 2008.

“There was supposed to be a $2 per month increase every year after the city adopted a capital facilities plan in 2000. However, I think the council was trying to be cautious in terms of the costs they were passing on to residents,” said Bob Francis, city manager, who came on board in 2004.

He said two major sewage backflows this year have highlighted the need for repairs to the system. However, the city can’t afford to replace the aging terra cotta lines without raising rates to cover expenses.

Francis said fees paid into a fund for sewer line expansions by developers cannot be used for routine upgrades. So, the city has no choice but to hike the cost of service provision.

“Right now we get enough revenue just to provide basic maintenance to the system,” said Francis. “So, these increases are going to help up replace our failing infrastructure.”

Two landowners with properties near 13th Street and Montello Avenue recently filed claims for backflows that total about $300,000. Columbia River Insurance, the city’s carrier, has already paid out just under $111,000 for several other backflows within the past five years.

Although state law limits liability of public agencies to $50,000 for each claim, the outcome of court cases can be uncertain.

Francis said the city is taking proactive steps to ward off future problems. In addition to the monthly rate increase, officials are providing residents who live along a steep slope with a free device to prevent raw sewage from backing up into a house. Property owners have to pay the cost of installation for the backwater prevention valve that is available by calling the public works department at 386-2383.

Francis said as terra cotta lines are changed out for plastic pipe, the passages will be enlarged to accommodate growth needs. He said the first project on the books for 2007 is an overhaul of the main transmission line that runs along a 10-block section of Columbia Street.

Other improvements are planned from First Street to the Wastewater Treatment Plant and a large section of 13th Street. The city also intends to upgrade two pump stations, one on the west side of town and the other along Indian Creek.

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