Council raises utility rates 3.1%

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local
City Council members approved a 3.1% rate increase for water, wastewater and storm drainage utilities at their April 14 meeting.
The new rates will go into effect July 1.
The rate increases are based off the Construction Cost Index published last month, and are intended to keep up with inflation and provide maintenance services to replace leaking water mains, replace failing sewer laterals, service necessary work at the wastewater treatment plant, and projected future storm drainage needs, according to a staff report to the council.
With the rate increases, the average single-family home’s monthly bill is expected to rise from $57.23 to $59.03 for water, from $74.87 to $77.19 for wastewater, and from $3.55 to $3.66 for storm drainage.
The city received 13 letters from residents opposing any rate increase, and none in favor.
Engineering Services Director Ron Whitlatch noted the wastewater treatment plant had been neglected while it was operated by Jacobs Engineering, creating capital maintenance needs that must be addressed. He also pointed out that construction costs for items such as paving and pipes “are crazy” right now.
Councilor Jason Bolen asked if all the new construction in town is affecting the costs. Whitlatch responded by calling it a double edged sword.
Those new lines will need to be replaced 50 to 80 years down the road, he said. Yet, the more ratepayers Lebanon has, the less each has to pay.
“The capital costs are fairly uniform, whether you’ve got 15,000 accounts or whether you’ve got 6,000 accounts,” he said.
“We’re still required to do all the same things. Overall, it has to do with the function of how many accounts we have and how many of those accounts we can spread those costs over.”
But the developers are paying the System Development Charges for that infrastructure, he confirmed.
Councilor Wayne Dykstra asked if the increase can be delayed because of the hard times the city has experienced recently, to which Whitlatch responded there are some repairs that could possibly be delayed, but it puts the city at risk if something breaks.
“Delaying only kicks the can down the road, and you can only kick the can down the road so far,” Bolen said.
That’s what previous councils in the 1980s and ’90s did because they didn’t want to increase fees, but it hurt the city in the end when major increases were needed to fix the water system, he said.
Addressing the economic impact of COVID on individuals, Bolen and new Councilor Gamael Nassar noted that not only did maintenance problems continue to fail during the past year, but COVID impacted the city financially also.

The council also:
♦ Swore Nassar in for the office of City Councilor, Ward 2.
♦ Discussed the possibility of housing the Arts Commission under the umbrella of the Lebanon Downtown Association, should LDA agree. Most councilors voiced their agreement that while the commission is important, it seemed best served through LDA, should LDA be open to the idea.
Two of the original main support persons on the commission – Gary Marks and Leigh Matthews Bock – are no longer working for the city. Currently, Alysia Rodgers, economic development catalyst, is acting support person for the commission and is now on maternity leave.
City staff have put in time to operate functions of the commission, such as installing the Quirky Turkey displays and managing IT services.
The Arts Commission was born out of the 2040 Vision, and Kelly Hart, community development director, noted that many of its goals have since been met, and that the LDA has taken over responsibility for some of the other goals.
♦ Approved amendments to the Lebanon Public Library policy manual, including, but not limited to, specifying a minimum age of 5 to apply for a library card, and allowing no-cost, limited-use cards for students who reside outside city limits.
♦ Approved a contract for pre-construction phase services of the Westside Sewer Interceptor Phase V to Emery & Sons for $30,400.
♦ Approved a $169,950 contract to procure a Filter Belt Press, equipment used to treat biosolids at the city’s wastewater plant. The winning bid came from OR-TEC, Inc., of Maple Heights, Ohio. Four firms bid on the project. OR-TEC’s bid was approximately $110,000 lower than the next-lowest competitor.
♦ Discussed a request from Swift Summit NW to waive the fee to use Cheadle Park for its annual bike race, which will be based in Lebanon this year. Councilors agreed it would be beneficial to the city for attendees to come to Lebanon, and said they would like to request sponsorship recognition in exchange for use of the park.