Utility bills will be higher

The Ashland City Council passed several utility rate increases that will cost the typical owner of a 1,500-square-foot home an extra $5.89 each month.

Costs are rising for utility operations, which depend heavily on personnel and petroleum products, according to Ashland Finance Director Lee Tuneberg.

Utility fees have not been raised in 15 months, he said.

Under Tuesday night's decision, water rates will rise 6 percent, sewer rates will rise 10 percent, the transportation utility fee will rise 15 percent and the storm drain utility fee will rise 50 percent as of Aug. 1.

The City Council previously decided to delay a 2 percent electric rate increase until January 2008.

Despite the utility fee increases, the city of Ashland will not bring in enough money from the transportation fee to cover long-term maintenance and repair of the town's streets.

The city has about $10 million worth of unfunded street work to do over the next decade, Tuneberg said.

City officials have created a task force to look at long-term street needs and possible revenue sources.

The group may complete a report by October, Tuneberg said.

The sewage fund also faces long-term budget problems.

Ashland's food and beverage tax generates about $1.8 million a year to pay the debt for past sewage treatment plant upgrades. Among other improvements, the city installed filters to comply with Oregon Department of Environmental Quality rules.

That tax ends in 2010, but the debt payments continue until 2022, Tuneberg said.

The city must find an additional $1.3 million to meet new Oregon Department of Transportation restrictions on the dumping of warm, treated sewage water in creeks, according to budget documents.

Warm water can be harmful to fish.

At Tuesday night's meeting, the City Council also approved an overall city budget of nearly $92.4 million for the fiscal year that starts in July &

down from the current fiscal year budget of $100.6 million.

Resident Brice Brandt questioned how the budget could drop significantly and yet fees are being increased.

"Now there's talk of raising fees and rates," he said.

"Why? How does that all add up?"

Brandt also said he does not want to see the Ashland Fiber Network's debt hidden in other departments, rather than being separated out so residents can see the debt.

Tuneberg said much of the fluctuation between the two budget years came because of changes in spending on capital projects.

The Ashland Police Department, Ashland Community Development Department and Ashland Fire Rescue did suffer cuts during the spring budget process.

AFN is contributing about $350,000 toward its next fiscal year debt payment of $1.06 million, while other city departments will pay about $700,000.

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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