10/24/2017 1:08:00 PM City takes a hard look at water, sewer rates
By Sue Stafford
Though everybody in Sisters uses water and the sewer system, a meeting held last week to inform the public about the results of the water and sewer rate study was only lightly attended. City staff members and City Councilors in attendance outnumbered the four citizens who showed up.
Chris Gonzalez, project manager for the FCS Group, gave a comprehensive report on the findings of his company's study. Utility rate studies are important because they enable a utility to remain self-sufficient, and they ensure that rates reflect utility policies and priorities.
With a moderate rate increase of 2 to 2.5 percent over the next five years, all future capital improvements can be made without going into debt. The new recommended rates are more equitable, encourage water conservation, and are very competitive with other Central Oregon cities. Redmond is the only city with lower rates.
Many residential customers are currently paying for the base 1,000 cubic feet of water and never using that much water in a month. Under the proposed new rates, customers will pay for the amount of water actually used. A low-consumption customer would benefit the most from this change.
The sewer rate study resulted in a proposed change in how the rate is determined. The current winter period of January-March that the City uses to calculate non-residential (commercial) equivalent dwelling units (EDUs), would be expanded to include October-April. This change intends to improve equity between residential and commercial customers by recognizing that a number of the City's non-residential customers do not exhibit representative water usage patterns during the January-March billing periods.
With this adjustment, the City can decrease the monthly rate per EDU based on the increased number of EDUs assigned to some of its non-residential customers.
A combined water and sewer bill for a single-family residence with a 3/4-inch water meter and 700 cubic feet of monthly water usage, under the 2017 billing, would pay $29.59 for water and $39 for sewer, for a total of $59.59 a month. Under the proposed rates for 2018, there would be a 1.9 percent decrease in the combined bill due to a decrease in the sewer charge, for a total of $58.46. The subsequent yearly increases through 2022 run between 2.1 and 2.4 percent and are generally consistent with the aggregate increases in the utilities' annual costs.
The sewer system was brand-new in 2001, so with a basically new system and equipment, the overall maintenance costs for the sewer system are low. When the system was installed, oversized lines were put in which proved to be a very forward-thinking action.
Capital improvement projects are looking more at system growth rather than maintenance or replacement.
Before City Council approves adoption of the new water and sewer rates, the City will be conducting outreach to their commercial customers to educate them regarding the changes. There will also be a public hearing at the time the Council considers approval of the rates.
The City reserve funds connected to the water and sewer utilities are in good financial shape. In the beginning of the 2017-18 fiscal year, the water reserve fund stood at $2.6M and by 2022 should be about $3.4M in preparation for some major capital improvements.
The sewer reserves began 2017-18 with $2.2 million and by 2022 should be $2.1 million due to expenses related to bio solid removal and replacing and upsizing equipment, which will be about 20 years old. After that, there shouldn't be much required in the way of maintenance.