Bend studies utility rates

City will discuss changes to how it charges for water, sewer this fall

By Hillary Borrud / The Bulletin

The city of Bend is getting closer to changing the way it charges customers for water and sewer service, after years of periodically revisiting the topic.

The City Council will hold workshops on the subject in September and October, then follow up with focus groups and open houses to gather feedback and share information with the public. The council could vote on new rate structures as soon as mid-December, senior policy analyst Gillian Ockner said at a July 16 meeting. “This is going to be quick and intensive,” Ockner said.

Residential customers currently pay a base rate of $21 a month for the first 400 cubic feet of water they use, then $1.60 per each additional 100 cubic feet of water. The average monthly water bill in Bend is $24 during winter months and $48 during summer months, according to the city. Residents also pay $46 a month for sewer service.

Some city councilors, including Mayor Jim Clinton and Councilor Mark Capell, have said they want to reduce the base amount charged to all customers and calculate water bills more on the amount of water customers use. One of the challenges is to calculate which costs — such as utility connections and maintaining a clean water source — should be included in the fixed amount charged to all water customers. People who commented on the city’s online feedback page, BendVoice.org, encouraged the city to also change to a consumption-based sewer rate structure, Ockner wrote in a recent update to other city employees.

City councilors have not yet prioritized their goals for the new rate structure. Some of the things the City Council wants to achieve with the new rates include revenue and rate stability, justifiability, equity, affordability, efficient use and administrative feasibility, according to Ockner. The City Council will discuss these goals at the upcoming workshops, Anne Aurand, community relations manager, said Friday.

The first utility rate workshop will be 1 to 5 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Bend fire training center, 63377 Jamison St. The city probably will hold a second workshop in October.

Although the new water and sewer rate structures will change how the city charges customers, they are not supposed to increase the amount of revenue the city receives. The City Council voted 4-3 in June to raise sewer rates by 9 percent and water rates by 5 percent for all customers on Oct. 1. This will increase by more than $5 the total monthly water and sewer bill for an average residential customer, according to the city. A large part of the water rate increase will go to water supply and treatment projects that could cost approximately $62.5 million. Federal law requires the city to begin treating the water it takes from Bridge and Tumalo creeks. The sewer rate increases will help pay for an $85.2 million sewer plan to address the city’s worst sewer problems.

Aurand wrote in an email Friday that although the general plan is not to increase revenue by changing water and sewer rate structures, “it’s possible that as we learn more about the costs of service, it could not end up exactly that way.”

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