More utility hikes on table

Ashland homeowners' utility bills would go up by nearly $100 a year under fee increases proposed by the city to balance its 2011-12 budget.

The increases proposed in water, sewer, electricity, transportation and stormwater fees would come on top of increases in water and sewer that take effect this spring. Once all fees were implemented by 2012, a typical homeowner's monthly bill would increase by an estimated $12.24, or $148.08 a year.

The Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee will hear details about the proposed budget at 6 p.m. today, April 18, in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St.

The Ashland City Council already approved a 10 percent water bill increase effective in May and a 6 percent sewer bill increase effective in June. Those combined increases will add $4.29 per month to a household's utility bills, or $51.48 more a year.

Fees proposed in the next budget will add another $96.60 a year.

"We're as upset about the utility rate increases as anybody, but they have to be done," City Administrator Martha Bennett said.

The city's water fund particularly is facing shortages because cool weather and conservation reduced water consumption last summer, leading to lower sales, city managers have said.

Among the proposed fee increases is a hike in electric bills of 6 percent in October. The Bonneville Power Administration is raising the cost of the electricity it wholesales to the city's electric utility by 13.9 percent, according to the city's proposed 2011-2012 budget.

Meanwhile, the budget gives a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment to firefighters and police officers. Bennett said those COLA increases were negotiated into multi-year contracts a few years ago and can't be avoided.

The budget includes a possible 2 percent COLA for Ashland Parks and Recreation Department employees.

Parks Director Don Robertson said the Parks Commission has yet to decide whether to give employees a COLA, and if so, what the percentage would be.

The consumer price index, a popular tool for measuring price increases, went up by 1.3 percent in 2010 in the Portland area, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Bennett said city workers will continue to pay 5 percent toward the cost of their health insurance premiums. That percentage is far below what most private sector employees pay toward the cost of their employer-provided health insurance.

Bennett said labor negotiations with some employee groups are beginning this week, and she could not discuss details.

"We will talk about a variety of cost-share options," she said.

The proposed city of Ashland budget is $94 million for the coming fiscal year, compared to a current fiscal year budget of $89.7 million.

Accounting for part of the increase is almost $1.5 million in federal funds for thinning in Ashland's watershed.

If the proposed budget is adopted, spending in many areas would rise slightly, with large increases for a few categories.

Most notably, spending on capital improvement projects would increase by $1.4 million, and electric department spending and bond and loan payments would each rise by almost $1 million.

Some of those increases are connected to construction of Fire Station No. 2 if voters approve passage of construction bonds on May 17, City Finance and Administrative Services Director Lee Tuneberg said.

Some spending is also linked to potential projects the Parks Department could undertake using proceeds from the city's sales tax on prepared food and drinks, he said.

For more details on the proposed budget, visit

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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