Sodaville Council decides fate of water bill, driveway widths

The Sodaville City Council at its Jan. 25 meeting questioned how it should respond to burst pipe water charges and whether they should adopt more lenient laws regarding paved driveways.

Following the ice storm that hit the state in mid-January, Public Works Director JD Burns reported a resident was unable to access his shop because it was uphill and the road was slick with ice; even City staff were unable to drive out. During the storm, a pipe in the shop had burst, causing a high loss of water and, ultimately, a high water bill.

City Administrator/Recorder Alex McHaddad offered a suggestion to cut the resident’s bill in half as a sort of compromise, given the circumstances. He clarified the resident’s bill usually hovers around $60, but this incident put him at around $373 (at the water restriction rate).

“We want people to be conserving, and they’ve been conserving” but now they’re hit with a water bill they had little to no control over, McHaddad said. He noted there was a similar situation with a different resident this past summer where they charged only half the cost.

Councilor Adina Olivares stressed she wanted to be sure the council remained “consistent and fair” with everyone when they make these kinds of decisions. Councilor Joseph Parsons also noted the council addressed this issue the previous month, essentially determining that “if it’s anything behind the meter, it’s not our responsibility.”

“Ordinarily when there’s an enforcement action like this, people are responsible for mitigating it,” McHaddad said. “But if they’re prevented from mitigating it themselves, I think we can give them some leniency.”

Mayor Brian Lewis, Council President Roger Perry and Councilor Joseph Parsons listen to a report by the city administrator.

Olivares agreed this particular situation by an Act of God prevented the property owner and city staff from identifying the problem, and some sort of mitigation should be considered. Parsons also wanted to take a person’s history with water and water bills into consideration. After some back and forth among the councilors, they agreed to charge the property owner half the cost of his bill.

The council next addressed an issue regarding a property owner who is going to be required to install a 22-foot-wide paved driveway due to a current city ordinance; they noted Sodaville Road is only 20 feet wide. It is an ordinance that several council members said doesn’t make sense. Olivares even noted that, given the recent ice storm, a gravel driveway would be easier or safer to drive on during such weather. The council approved a motion to initiate an amendment to the ordinance to adopt Linn County pavement standards, which has less stringent requirements. The amended ordinance will be reviewed during the February council meeting.

In other business:

⯁ McHaddad reported the City spent “a little over” $90,000 in water hauling for the fiscal year and had “scraped together” $104,000 for the purpose, leaving a $14,000 surplus. However, the budget for liability insurance was short and health insurance premiums were recently raised. McHaddad recommended the council move the surplus to cover those unexpected expenses.

⯁ McHaddad reported the Legislature made a mistake in its appropriations for Sodaville’s water funding grant; he expects the error to be fixed soon. While the City waits for the funding for the new well project, it is tackling necessary paperwork and discussions with an engineer and the property owner.

⯁ The Council appointed McHaddad as the budget officer for the 2024-25 fiscal year, and designated The New Era/Lebanon Local as the City’s paper of record.

⯁ McHaddad shared he might be offered a different job soon. If that is the case, the Council will have about a month to hire a replacement, but he will make himself available to assist with the transition.

⯁ Burns reported Dec. 12, 2023 was the last day the City hauled water in, and the City’s reservoir hit the full mark on Jan. 4, 2024.

⯁ The Council tabled a decision regarding a permanent rate change for water use in excess of 7,500 gallons during normal periods, charging two cents per gallon above 7,500 gallons. It is expected this would help replenish lost funding due to water hauling this past year. They opted to hold a work session Feb. 8 to discuss the matter further.

⯁ The Council adopted a resolution transferring $5,000 from LGIP (the State Pool Account) into the City’s checking account, and moving $496 from checking into LGIP (which comes from the $2 base rate from water bills and is to be reserved for repairs and maintenance).

⯁ The Council appointed Parsons as a member to the board of the Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments, and Olivares as alternate director.