Sewer rate hike gets OK from councilors

The Lebanon City Council, on Wednesday evening, May 8, approved resolutions increasing wastewater and storm drainage rates by 2.3 percent while water rates will remain unchanged.

For the average residence, which uses seven units or 5,236 gallons of water each month, the sewer charge will increase from $73.19 to $74.87 per month. The storm drainage charge will increase from $3.47 to $3.55 per month. At seven units, the charge for water will remain unchanged at $57.23 per month. Total, the average residence will see a utility bill increase from $133.89  to $135.65 per month, an increase of $1.76.

The new rates take effect July 1.

Engineering Services Director Ron Whitlach said the increase of 2.3 percent is based on projected inflation and cited the Construction Cost Index published by McGraw Hill in April.

In 2010, the council approved several rate increases to fund the new Water Treatment Plant, Whitlach said. As of April, the Water Treatment Plant is complete, with water being produced and sent to the distribution system.

The city will make its first payment of nearly $1.2 million in fiscal 2019-20, which begins July 1. The payment will continue for the next 30 years.

Whitlach said the city is budgeting high for the plant in 2019-20 based on uncertainty about operational costs. The proposed budget for 2019-20 is $400,000 more than last year, but he expects it go down.

“Until we have history with the new Water Treatment Plant, we have been very conservative,” he said. “We’ve padded that budget for the Water Plant this year. I have no history with it. We way over-estimated what we think our power’s going to be and we’ve way over-estimated what our chemical costs will be. The staffing costs we know. Those costs there, we just left a big number in there. That money just stays. It doesn’t get used if we don’t use it.”

Personnel increases will increase by $30,000, 7.4 percent, with city employees now operating the plant instead of Jacobs.

“We’re getting there,” Whitlach said of running the new plant. “And it’s running well. It has its bugs. I will tell you with us running it, it’s new to us. We’re kind of like a cat on a hot tin roof on little issues, but overall it’s going well, really well.”

The cost of materials and services will bump up by $12,000, 1.9 percent, and transfers to the General Fund will increase by $52,000, 3.3 percent.

Based on the financial condition of the water utility, Whitlach said, the inflationary increases can be absorbed with little impact to the fund.

Less was spent on the new plant than had been expected, and the city has substantial carryover in its funding for next year, Whitlach said. That will allow for several waterline replacements, additional projects at the new plant and the savings of $500,000 for future equipment replacement.

In wastewater,  Whitlach said the city is continuing to design and construct projects approved by council, but it’s also been able to complete additional projects not identified during the last rate adjustment, including the reconstruction of the effluent pump station and the sewer main installation to the new Water Treatment Plant.

During the past couple of years, he said, the city has seen a substantial increase in the number of existing sewer lines that are showing failure.

Wastewater Treatment Plant operations, a payment to Jacobs, which operates the plant, will increase by $45,000, 4.1 percent in 2019-20. Personnel costs decrease by $15,000, 4.8 percent, thanks to a staffing shift, while materials and services increase some $32,000, 5.6 percent.

The rate increase also covers a $5.5 million loan to help fund the next phase of the Westside Interceptor, a sewer line necessary to develop the south end of the city, Whitlach said. This is possible since a significant amount of debt service for previous projects being complete.

“There will be a need for a new solid handling system at the Wastewater Plant, which will take place after the mediation process with Jacobs,” Whitlach said.

The storm drainage utility will see an increase of $58,000, 16.5 percent, in transfers to the General Fund, largely to make a debt service payment to the street system development charge fund for the Canal Underdrain Project. The materials and services budget for storm drainage will remain unchanged.

The council implemented an annual inflationary adjustment for storm drainage beginning in 2010, which allows the utility to stay current with inflation and minimize large rate increases for capital projects in the future, Whitlach said.

The utility is used to clean and maintain storm pipes, manholes and catch basins and to replace aging lines and correct drainage problems.

Present at the meeting were Wayne Rieskamp, Michelle Steinhebel, Mayor Paul Aziz, Karin Stauder and Robert Furlow.

In other business, the council:

  • Heard a presentation from representatives of Mackenzie, a Portland architecture and engineering firm, about plans to develop a master plan for City Hall.

The council set six goals in 2017, said City Manager Gary Marks. The city has addressed five of them. City Hall is the sixth.

“At the time the council set the goals, they expressed a concern that we needed to start looking at the condition of our City Hall, its serviceability and what we might do in the future,” Marks said. “We are a growing community. We know from past analysis we’ve had done on the building we’re in now that it has serious structural issues. If we have sustained winds of over 45 mph, I am now under instructions that I’m to evacuate the building because it’s structurally unsound.”

City Hall has had issues with mold, Marks said, and “we’ve basically run out of space in the building.”

The city engaged Mackenzie to help look at options, Marks said.

Project Manager Cathy Bowman said Mackenzie has recently started looking at the building’s structural deficiencies, ADA deficiencies and the lifespan of the building’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. Some of the heating systems are not working. Some lights are not working, or they do not meet modern energy code standards.

Mackenzie will look at the right size for City Hall over the next 30 years, she said, whether it needs a council chamber and how large it needs to be.

Lebanon’s old Water Treatment Plant is now vacant, so it’ll look at what Lebanon can do with it, use it as a revenue source or a city park, Bowman said. The team will look at potential sites and consider whether to renovate or build a new City Hall in the same location or at a new site.

After evaluating the issue, Mackenzie will host a community meeting to receive public input, take that information back to the team and incorporate that information.

Last, Mackenzie will look at the costs of the project, from renovating to rebuilding to moving furniture, she said. A financial adviser will help the city identify funding sources.

Mackenzie plans to complete and present its analysis in August.

“Between now and a new City Hall or renovated City Hall, we have a long way to go,” Marks said. “I would anticipate there’s going to be several opportunities where we’ll going to be reaching out to our community for input. This is but a first step.

“I don’t want anyone to leave this meeting tonight saying, the city’s going to go build a new City Hall. I don’t know how that would happen, folks. There are a number of challenges, other agencies in the community who are looking at major projects, Fire Hall, the Aquatics District’s looking at the swimming pool. There’s a lot going on in this community, and how a City Hall fits in, I don’t know.

“The idea here is a first step. I would anticipate that this is not something that happens tomorrow or next year or even in a few years from now.”

“This has been a process that’s been going on for a long time,” Aziz said. “It’s something that we have to address. I’m just happy we’re looking at it.”

  • Approved the annexation of two properties, including five lots on Primrose Drive east of Les Schwab Tire Center and Main Auto Body and a lot in the 1900 block of S. 7th Street, west of the high school. Both were islands of land that had not yet been annexed into the city.

The 7th Street lot is 18,000 square feet with a house. With the annexation, the property was partitioned to create two lots.

Both properties are zoned  residential mixed density.

  • Approved a resolution accepting the annual audit for fiscal 2017-18, which ended June 30, by Umpqua Valley Financial. The city received a clean, unmodified opinion on its financial.
  • Decided by consensus to continuing limiting noise after 10 p.m. most nights and to allow amplification for events up to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Heard comments from Marks about retiring Community Development Director Walt Wendolowski.

“I wanted to recognize the fact that the city has been extremely fortunate to have Walt leading our community development efforts,” Marks said. He and John Morgan are recognized as the “senior gurus” in community development around the state.

“Walt has contributed a lot to the profession of community development.

“He has certainly turned the tide for the City of Lebanon, the way he helped us, before my time, streamline our processes, make us attractive to quality development. We’ve been served by a giant in the profession, and I just wanted to express my deepest thanks to Walt for all of his contributions to our team, the city and especially to me.”

“I want to thank Walt for something that not a lot of people realize that he did or remember,” Aziz said.

“When we were without a city manager, Walt stepped up. He took the helm and became our city manager for awhile, and he did a heck of a job.

“He had to go with layoffs. He had to go with stuff that had happened that he had to fix. We just couldn’t have done it without you. And Strawberry Plaza would’ve never happened and the downtown revitalization would never have happened if we didn’t have you.”

“I really appreciate that,” Wendolowski said. “I’ve been doing this for over 33 years, and I’ve never worked with a city that everyone’s on the same page. And you don’t know how good that feels, like when I walk into work, I know what I’m here for.

“This is one helluva good community. I’ll say it. It’s on tape. This is a helluva good community.”

“I wish the public really knew how fortunate they are to have this excellent council. The Planning Commission’s the best I’ve ever worked with. And also a management team that understands the importance of working with the citizenry. I do appreciate the comments, but it couldn’t be done by myself. Other managers I’ve worked with, Gary has been very supportive. And, of course, staff has always been great to work with.”