BAKER — After hearing from a packed room of residents and city employees Tuesday, the Baker City Council again struck down a proposal for sewer and water fee increases.
A few residents spoke against the proposal, citing concerns about how the money would be spent and saying that utility bills in the city are already too high.
Council members Robert Young, Charles Vincent, Joyce Burges and John Givens, who all voted against the proposed increase, did not fully explain their votes during the meeting.
Young said after the meeting that “like the residents (who spoke at the meeting), I was concerned that the money was not earmarked for specifics and was just (to be) placed in the general fund. And then, you know, if it’s put in the general fund, it can be used for anything.”
Council member Pete Heine cast the lone yes vote for the increases.
“I took a scientific survey and I didn’t find one person that wanted the increase, including me. But there are consequences to any action and there are consequences if we don’t do this,” Heine said.
Public safety will suffer as well as maintenance of the city utility system, he said.
The proposed water rate ordinance called for increasing the flat water fee from $9 to $15 per month for residents inside the city. The per gallon usage would have gone up from $1.50 to $1.75 per thousand gallons. Calculated based on an average household usage of 4,000 gallons, most homeowners’ per gallon total cost would have increased $1 per month, Mayor Harold Rideau said during a town hall meeting in June.
The proposed sewer rate ordinance would have increased the sewer fee from $14 to $16 per month for residents. The proposal also called for tying utility rates to the Consumer Price Index, which would have allowed the city to raise rates to keep up with inflation.
The council introduced the same utility rate proposal in May, but in June voted 4-1 against adopting it. As with Tuesday’s vote, Heine was the only council member in favor of the increase.
Before the vote Tuesday, many audience members spoke in favor of the proposal.
Baker police Chief Mike Knaps clarified that if the rate hike passed, no city workers would receive a raise. Even if the city raised the fees, dramatic cuts still would need to be made in police and fire as well as other city services due to budget problems in Baker, he said.
“I ask the public and the council to understand that we have to (raise utility rates) to maintain our level of service in the city. This is not something that’s going to bring a gold mine,” Knaps said.
Baker resident John Able also spoke in favor of the rate hikes, saying the City Council has a responsibility to supply the city with the funding it needs.
“My monthly utility bill is $141.89 total. The water is $12.82. They are asking for a $6 increase (in the monthly flat water fee). That’s still under $20 for the convenience of being able to have water come out of the faucet and be able to flush the toilet,” Able said. “I’m on a fixed income like everyone else and I don’t like to see bills increasing, but everything is increasing.”