By Kristine Thomas
Silverton Public Works Director Christian Saxe had concerns about asking the council to raise utility rates.
“As a public servant, you want to avoid raising rates whenever possible,” he said.
However, he faced a choice – raise street, stormwater and water rates or watch those utilities continue to decline. When preparing the 2017-18 budget, Saxe knew increases were needed to meet the demand for infrastructure projects.
“The city’s stormwater, streets and water treatment facility have degraded or aged to a level where major work needs to occur,” Saxe said.
On Feb. 6, Saxe asked the Silverton City Council to increase stormwater and street fees each by $3 a month and water rates 15 percent.
For a family of four, Saxe projected, the average increase of the utility bill will be $10.82 a month; $6 for the $3 increase in both the stormwater and street fees, $4.58 for water, and 24 cents for the annual consumer price index adjustment approved by the council in 2016.
The council unanimously approved the increases. The charges will appear on bills beginning July 1, 2017. Industrial and commercial businesses also will see an increase in the sewer flow rate from $3.63 to $4.99 per hundred cubic feet.
In preparing the recommendations, Saxe referred to reports on the condition of the city’s streets, stormwater and water plants. The city contracted with consultants in 2012 and 2013 to review the Pavement Condition Index and its utility rates versus infrastructure needs.
“The results of those studies recommended regular increases to all utility rates and fees, streets, stormwater, water and sewer,” he said.
“Although the city implemented increases between the study date and now, the increases were not adequate to address the aging infrastructure needs of the city and were below the recommended levels.”
For a link to the report on Water
Treatment Facility plan,
Saxe said if he were to take a resident on a tour of the city’s infrastructure, he would start with the city’s 50-year-old primary water treatment plant.
“This facility has far exceeded its expected life span and is in need of replacement in order for the city to continue providing a safe and reliable water source,” Saxe said.
He added the water plant’s filtration and treatment systems are so outdated that replacement parts do not exist. Plus, holding tanks are leaking due to the condition of the structural concrete.
“The city is aggressively pursuing multiple grant opportunities to assist with funding this $10.4 million project,” Saxe said.
The tour of the city would include field visits to several city streets that do not have a storm drain system.
“This field trip would allow me to illustrate how the lack of a storm drain system directly results in the premature failure of a street,” he said.
Here’s a look at what Saxe presented to the council:
The city averages $220,000 in annual revenue from the current stormwater fee of $4.05 a month, Saxe wrote. The city’s current capital improvement lists for recommended stormwater projects has an estimated five-year outlook of more than $3 million in expenditures.
“Based on the current rate, it would take the city over 10 years to fund and complete construction of the Priority 1 and 2 projects,” Saxe wrote.
He noted many city streets do not have a storm drain system, including McClaine Street from West Main to Westfield.
“Because there is not an existing drainage system, the storm runoff has degraded the asphalt to a point where the entire street needs to be reconstructed at a cost of approximately $1 million,” Saxe said, adding there is a direct correlation between stormwater management and paving conditions.
“With the recommended increases, we will be able to install the necessary drainage infrastructure and then reconstruct the roadways,” Saxe said. “This work will enable us to easily maintain these areas for 25-30 years at a fraction of the cost of current maintenance practices.”
At the current street maintenance fee of $6.07 a month, the city averages $275,000 in annual revenue. The 2012 Pavement Management Program Study recommended a fee of $15 per month.
“This proposed fee would have brought the city’s Pavement Condition Index to a maintainable level in 2-3 years,” the report states. “Because of the lower adopted fee, the city’s street inventory conditions have continued to decline. This has resulted in the need for a more expensive large scale projects such as the planned McClaine Street Rehabilitation Project with an estimated construction cost of around $1 million.
Saxe said there are numerous large scale overlay projects needed in the north side and downtown areas.
“Overall, the current recommended street maintenance and reconstruction projects based on the city’s declining PCI has an estimated five-year outlook of over $2.9 million in expenditures,” the report states. If the city were to maintain the current fees, it would take 10 years to fund and complete construction of these projects.
Increasing to $9.20, will allow for a “steady improvement of the city’s PCI through multiple reconstruction, overlay and slurry sealing projects.”
Fuel tax ballot initiative
Currently, the city of Silverton does not have a fuel tax. City staff recommended placing a 2 cent per gallon fuel tax on the November 2017 ballot. If approved by the voters, the city would gain about $173,000 in annual revenue.
“These revenues can be used to expand our slurry sealing and overlay projects or can be used for large scale projects such as the McClaine Street Rehabilitation Project,” according to the report.
“The revenue generated from a fuel tax is only allowed to be used on street maintenance and improvement and cannot be used for staffing or equipment.”
Domestic Water Rates
In 2016, the city council adopted a water treatment plant facility master plan calling for expenditures of $10.4 million.
The funds from the new 15 percent increase in water rates will be earmarked to provide matching funds for potential grants and to service debt associated with necessary immediate improvements to the plant. The report states the funds could also provide matching funds for grants to complete construction of the Silver Creek Raw Water Line Project and the two million gallon reservoir needed to address water storage and pressure needs on the west side of town, and necessary replacement of the city’s aging water distribution system.