Baker City, through no fault of its own, is confronted with an estimated $4.8 million bill within the next several yeras.
That's the projected cost to revamp the disposal system for wastewater treated at the city's sewage lagoons.
For more than three decades the city has diverted wastewater into the Powder River.
But both the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seem intent on ending that practice.
Alternatively, the city is looking at building a pipeline to carry
wastewater several miles to an artificial wetland in Baldock Slough,
north of the airport.
In anticipation of this major expense, the City Council will meet
Tuesday to discuss increase sewer rates to raise money for the pipeline
An increase is inevitable.
But the Council, in assessing its options, should take one off the table.
That option is raising rates enough that the city can pay for the pipeline work without borrowing money.
It's an enticing idea, to be sure. The obvious advantage is that the
city wouldn't pay interest on a loan, so the overall cost would be less.
But the burden such a strategy might put on ratepayers - a preliminary
proposal has the city needing to boost the monthly rate for residential
customers by more than 100 percent, from $15.50 to $33.50, and impose a
20-percent hike on business customers - is simply too much.
Another $18 per month can be a significant amount for a person on a
fixed income. And residents can't very well forego sewer service.
We don't envy councilors. Striving to minimize the long-term cost to ratepayers, by eschewing interest, is a worthwhile goal.
But, just as most homeowners can't afford to pay cash and instead take
out a mortgage, it looks as though the city will have to fill out a
loan application in this case.