Baker City Council members expressed concern about proposed increases in water, wastewater and other fees during their regular meeting Tuesday evening, April 13 at City Hall.

Jeanie Dexter, the city’s finance director, presented the annual fee resolution.

Councilors are scheduled to vote on the resolution during their April 27 meeting. Any fee changes would take effect July 1, the start of the 2021-22 fiscal year.

In her report, Dexter said proposed increases in water and wastewater rates, and a variety of fees at Mount Hope Cemetery, are based on the federal Consumer Price Index, which increased by 1.9% for the 12-month period ending in February 2021.

Councilor Heather Sells asked whether city officials had discussed leaving water rates as they are since some businesses have been closed or severely restricted due to state-imposed guidelines designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Dexter said city officials discussed the idea of forgoing rate increases last year.

But this year, she said, officials decided to propose increases identical to the Consumer Price Index because the city needs to cover its own costs for operating the water and wastewater systems.

Dexter noted that the proposed increase of 1.9% for water and sewer fees is lower than several recent increases the City Council has passed.

The Council boosted water rates by 10% in each of three years, 2016-18, and sewer rates by 10% and 12.8% during the past decade.

Dexter said the city has been trying to offer assistance for people who struggle to pay their bills.

Dexter said she has learned that The Salvation Army has not distributed all of the $10,000 in federal COVID-19 aid that the City Council awarded the organization last fall, and that she extended the deadline for disbursing that money, including for utility payment relief, until June 30.

Councilor Lynette Perry said she has heard from residents who feel the current rates are unbearably high, and that another increase would be a hardship.

In reference to proposed increases in fees at the cemetery, including the cost for perpetual care rising from $882 to $899, Councilor Joanna Dixon asked if that price includes spraying and removing weeds.

Dexter said the fees cover about half the city’s annual cost to hire a contractor to maintain the cemetery.

Dexter said the funds that go to support the cemetery cover about 50% of the actual expenditures to pay the contractors.

Michelle Owen, the city’s public works director, said the contract does include weed control.

Dixon also asked about bike licenses, and whether the city has considered charging a fee for the license, which is free.

Dexter said the purpose of the license is to ensure that the city has a record of a bike and its owner so there’s a chance to return a lost or stolen bike to its owner.

“They want to encourage the public to just come and get one,” Dexter said. “So that’s why we’ve never charged a fee for that.”

In other business Tuesday, councilors:

• approved by a 4-3 vote the first reading of ordinance 3881, which adds two members to the city’s golf board, bringing the total from five to seven.

Councilors Jason Spriet, Shane Alderson, Sells, and Perry voted in favor of the first reading.

Mayor Kerry McQuisten, and councilors Johnny Waggoner Sr. and Dixon voted against the first reading.

• declared the week of April 19 as the community’s Arbor Day celebration to celebrate Baker City’s 36th consecutive year of being recognized as a Tree City USA through the Arbor Day Foundation. That’s the fifth-longest streak among Oregon cities.

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