Editorial: Water rate plan an improvement

Bend city councilors will discuss water rates again Monday, this time to look at a new proposal by the city’s Infrastructure Advisory Committee. It’s all part of the city’s attempt to both get the cash it needs to operate and improve the system and make fees fair to all who use it.

The advisory committee’s proposal is basically this: Charge every water user a flat per-gallon fee that accurately reflects the user’s consumption; meanwhile, charge a fixed fee that would cover each user’s cost of fixed services that everyone in the city shares.

That’s similar to what the city has now, but the proposal would increase the percentage of revenue that the city gets from the fixed fee to 62 percent from 56 percent now. There would be a corresponding decrease in the percentage of revenue coming from the volume charge from 44 percent now to 38 percent. The advisory committee says it better allows the city to recover costs beyond usage.

Even without specifics, several things about the proposal are clear.

It is, for one thing, far simpler and fairer than an earlier suggestion that would have created tiers of charges, with those using more water paying more per gallon than those using less. A increase in the fixed fee for fixed services would give the city a way to recover its costs from homeowners who use very little water, among them homeowners who leave the area for part of each year.

Meanwhile, councilors and the city’s administration can do a couple of things that should make for both good decisions and general acceptance of them.

City staff should take the advice of one of its new councilors, Victor Chudowsky, who told The Bulletin a couple of months ago that he’d like to see that councilors are given an array of options on such things as new rate structures, construction projects and the like.

Water rate changes would be the perfect place to start. Rather than give councilors a single proposal to consider, staff should give them two or three, let them weigh the advantages of each and choose one.

Finally, while councilors can adopt a new plan at any time, we’d suggest holding off on anything that would increase current bills until July, a year from when rates last went up. That would give residents time to adjust budgets to accommodate increases, surely a good thing.

Changes that make water bills easy to understand, fair to all and that cover the cost of running the city’s water system make sense. Approached carefully, the city can accomplish all three.