Bend considers water rate change

Nov 13, 2012

Bend Bulletin

Bend considers water rate change

Billing plan would modify flat fee, move toward a more usage-based system

By Hillary Borrud

The city of Bend is poised to overhaul how it charges customers for water, but it is unclear whether the average water bill would go up or down under the proposed changes.

The city Infrastructure Advisory Committee recently recommended that the city move to a water rate system based more on how much water people use by eliminating the flat fee for the first 400 cubic feet of water that a household uses each month.

Yet this model would not necessarily mean lower bills for people who use little water, because the city might increase the fixed fee for services that everyone receives, regardless of how much water they use. The city could also begin charging this fixed fee to everyone connected to the water system, even if homeowners are out of town or a property is in foreclosure.

The City Council is scheduled to discuss the issue again Monday evening.

The City Council has not voted on whether to adopt the committee recommendations.

Currently, residents who pay for year-round water service are subsidizing the cost to keep water available at all times to vacant homes in foreclosure and part-time residents with second homes in Bend. “The water users who are here, we don’t really feel should be subsidizing the folks who aren’t," said Frank Turek, an advisory committee member, during a Nov. 7 presentation to the City Council.

Turek and other committee members said their rate proposal emphasizes fairness and equity among water users. They have been studying the fixed and variable costs of the water system to determine which costs increase when people use more water and which costs remain steady, regardless of how much water is used.

For example, the cost to build a new water treatment plant would be a fixed cost and should be divided among all water users as a flat fee, according to the committee. The cost of operating the plant would be variable, since it could rise or fall depending upon demand, so it should be factored into the cost of each cubic foot of water, the committee found.

Committee member Nancy Loveland said the city has an obligation to maintain at all times a supply of safe drinking water that is adequate to serve the community. The city must also meet state and federal water quality standards, and maintain “fireflows" necessary for crews to fight fires. “These costs are fixed," Loveland said. “We’re saying all customers should get a fixed rate."

Committee member Andy High, who is also vice president for government affairs at the Central Oregon Builders Association, said fires can occur in homes even when the owners are out of town for an extended time. Under the current system, those people do not pay for water to be available at all times to fight the fire.

City Councilor Mark Capell said it is counterintuitive that people who use little water could actually see their bills increase under a system based more on water usage.

Turek agreed, but said some of the larger water users might have been subsidizing the fixed costs in the water system.

Finance Director Sonia Andrews said earlier this year that a new water rate structure could take effect in January if the City Council approves. That would be the second rate change to hit residents in one year; rates increased on July 1 to pay for improvements to the water and sewer systems.

— Reporter: 541-617-7829, hborrud@bendbulletin.com 

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