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Citizen's View: Skyrocketing water bills demand real solutions for curbing costs

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If you’ve been shocked by your recent water bill, then pay close attention this election year. To understand why costs have skyrocketed, it helps to recall past political decisions, as well as how your water bill breaks down.

A water bill is really a City Fees bill. The biggest part of your monthly bill is the sewer charge, which has increased by nearly 270 percent since 2006-07! The Lake Oswego Interceptor Sewer Project cost over $90 million and was funded by bonds; we are now paying off that debt to the tune of $6.4 million this year, or nearly $375 per household.

The next part of the bill helps to pay for the water project initiated jointly with Tigard under former Mayor Judie Hammerstad. At the time the project was proposed, Lake Oswego used about 8 million gallons per day of water; Tigard wanted 18 million gallons per day. So, we built a 38-million-gallons-per-day water plant to serve a city that is overwhelmingly built out!

Lake Oswegans are now paying nearly half the cost of the bloated water project, which has risen to over $250 million, with water costs increasing by 225 percent since 2006-2007. This year, it will cost Lake Oswegans $3 million, with a projected increase to $5 million next year.

Also, recall that under the Hammerstad/Jack Hoffman administrations, there was a huge push to build high-density housing in the Foothills area, on a floodplain occupied by a sewer plant.

Another part of the water bill is actual water usage. About five years ago, the city went to “tiered” water usage. This was to encourage conservation, and it succeeded: Water usage dropped by 25 percent, to less than six million gallons per day. For the first 800 cubic feet of water used, you pay $2.62 per hundred cubic feet. Over 1,700 cubic feet, you pay $7.06 per hundred cubic feet — almost three times as much as for the first cubic foot.

The third part of your bill is surface water for storm runoff. This is up only 165 percent in the last 10 years. Again, this is to pay off bonds and run the system.

Finally, there is street maintenance. This is up 225 percent in 10 years; monies are used for street maintenance along with contributions from the General Fund. Even so, our streets are not meeting the condition index goal. (All of the numbers cited are from the City Master Fees publication, available on the city Finance Department website.)

Then there are billing errors. The city retains a meter-reading service, which has been challenged to get all meters read on a monthly basis. Sometimes the meter does not get read on the proper day, which means you get billed for

more or less than 30 days (normal cycle). For more information, go to www.LOCitizens.com.

Sadly, there is not a lot that can be done about these spiraling increases. But unless voters awaken and realize that they need to elect officials who are truly fiscally responsible— versus the “visionary” spenders of the past who created this mess — taxpayers can expect more of the same. That is why it will be vital that candidates put forth real solutions as to how they will control and curb costs.

Our city government is expensive and getting more so every day. Costs need to be managed tightly.

Gerry Good is a Lake Oswego resident, a member of the Citizens Budget Committee and a director of the Lake Oswego Citizens Action League (LOCAL).