The issue of water/sewer charges came to a forefront at this week’s Lincoln City City Council meeting, as they looked for clarity. However, it seemed many City Council members were left with more questions than answers at the end of the discussion.
In August 2018, the City Council requested staff look into a mechanism to grant relief from sewer commodity charges when the increase in water usage (and associated sewer commodity charge) is tied to garden use, with property owners still paying for all water used. Legal staff presented three options to the City Council a few weeks ago at the Aug. 26 meeting.
The first option was intended to apply to residential garden use - limited to city residents with a 200 square foot garden, nursery or greenhouse. The second was a more narrow option intended to apply to residential food production use - limited to city residents, with a 200 square foot garden, nursery or greenhouse for food production. The third more broad option would be applied to commercial businesses and residents but still required them to have a 200 square foot minimum garden, nursery or greenhouse.
The issue the City has been trying to mitigate is that they currently charge as if all water goes to the sewer plant and is treated, when in certain cases it doesn’t, such as outdoor watering, where the water is used for irrigation and garden watering.
The City Council was shown multiple pricing scenarios put together by City Manager Ron Chandler and staff that showed the discounts on customer sewer bills for individuals who do a lot of outside watering. The chart also displayed the overall cost for the City of providing lower sewer and water rates.
Mayor Dick Anderson has been working on fine-tuning this ordinance since it was brought up last year and has been looking to provide a solution to those looking for a break in the rates.
“I asked the council to consider this proposed ordinance because I felt that there was an unfairness about the distribution of the cost of the sewer treatment operation,” Anderson said. “The estimates from finance certainly show how much non-users of the system subsidize the operation.”
Anderson gave a few suggestions to the council such as putting in a sunset provision, which would give the council a chance to assess data over a period of time; providing a free separate water meter to horticultural users; or increasing the base rate to users to cover the actual cost of utilizing the treatment plant.
“These potential outcomes are not looking for a gift or handout,” Anderson said. “They are simply asking not to charge for what they are not using.”
The City Council discussed questions such as regulating how a separate meter would be used, how many people would take advantage of a changed water/sewer rate and balancing the cost to the City.
“As far as fairness goes, we all pay some portion of our taxes for things that we don’t use… that’s kind of the way the system works,” Councilor Rick Mark said. “We all benefit from other people’s payments.”
The Council decided to send the proposed ordinance back to the City staff to examine some of the topics discussed at the meeting and present their findings to the Council at a later meeting.
“I’ve heard several things on this tonight,” Chandler said. “We will look at Tillamook’s way of doing this, a standard fee without the usage on it, usage of a second meter. There’s quite a bit of information to look at.”
Chandler said they will likely spend the next several weeks doing research for the ordinance before discussing it again with the City Council.