Editorial: Councilors should pay the price to save

Published May 24, 2014 at 12:01AM

The city of Bend has the same problem many people do: It’s hard to save for the future.

When the city of Bend needed to come up with money to replace the water pipeline from Bridge Creek to Bend, it had a problem.

Previous city councils had not been setting aside reserves to pay for it.

And now that the city needs to improve its sewer infrastructure, it has a similar problem. It was only recently that the council raised rates to help pay for that.

Utility customers don’t want to pay more. If the council proposes to raise rates or raises them, customers complain. Councilors respond by trying to keep rates low.

Wednesday night, the city was looking at how much to raise its sewer rates. The Sewer Infrastructure Advisory Group, an advisory panel made up of community members pouring hundreds of hours of volunteer time into analyzing the city’s sewer problems, suggested a 9 percent increase followed by 2.25 percent increases in future years. The initial 9 percent increase would mean about a $3.99 actual increase per month for customers.

Councilors expressed concerns. Councilor Mark Capell said the jump in rates could mean that councilors get flooded with complaints. Councilor Doug Knight asked if smaller initial increases were considered. Mayor Jim Clinton said he wanted the city to find a way to match sewer charges with actual use — perhaps by using winter water use as a way of estimating sewer use. There are also people on limited incomes for whom a couple more bucks a month matters a lot.

While all those issues are important, Councilor Scott Ramsay challenged councilors to fulfill their responsibility — not only to the present customers and voters, but to the future. The city needs to do a better job of ensuring it has the money to pay for future infrastructure, he said. Councilors should make the harder choice.

“It’s time for us to take some flack,” Ramsay said.

Ramsay is right. We don’t know if a 9 percent increase is the right one. It will be easier to tell in a few weeks when the council looks at all the rate increases it is considering together. But the council shouldn’t wilt from doing the right thing for Bend’s future when so many councils have gotten that wrong.

No matter what fee increases the city council supports, people are going to complain and criticize. Better to endure that for doing the right thing than the wrong.