$20 increase in Sept.: South Bend to raise sewer rates

Scot Pearson

SOUTH BEND - It was a somber and long meeting at the last South Bend City Council meeting on July 13. The meeting, possibly a record for the current sitting city council, lasted just under 1.5 hours with an agenda numbered into the twenties.

Time was spent going over the second and final reading of the new sign ordinance as council member Robert Hall brought up a few items during discussion and at least two council members taking offense at the recent updating of the city code. It was finally approved three to two, council members Lisa Olsen and Karla Webber both voting against the approval. But majority council approved the changes while moving the new sign ordinance to be written and enacted shortly with the amended portions of Chapter 16.65, Sign Regulations. Those businesses that are out of ordinance will be advised and will soon have to adhere to the new regulations drafted. It was noted that the issue of the sign regulations being updated actually started prior to any complaints from the public, but the South Bend City Council was waiting to see the Raymond city regulations to align their regulations with them, but after citizen complaints around a specific sign, moved the South Bend City Council into action earlier.

A fair amount of time was spent during this meeting around the needed increase to city sewer rates.

Hesitant to bring the item up, as there was a history to explain, South Bend Mayor Julie Struck started the agenda item with a preface, "I would like to enter into discussion prior to hearing any motion on Ordinance 1499. It has come to light that an error was made last year in regards to the number of sewer accounts that we (City of South Bend) have to the tune of 210. We have 210 less accounts and it necessitates a rate change."

The impact of the error created an $81,000 shortfall that went undiscovered until five weeks ago and the staff at the city has been working on what was needed to be done to bring the Sewer Accounts back up to level. The result is a $20 increase. Effective this September 2015 billing cycle the flat rate charge for residential city sewer will be $109.83 regardless of sewer water consumption. All others, commercial, industrial and institutional pay the same rate and will pay an additional $5.70 per 1,000 gallons after 10,000 gallons of consumption. For large users they also have a cap at 60,000 gallons for commercial accounts, 125,000 gallons for industrial accounts, and 10,001 for institutional accounts.

It was further explained that users who are connected to city sewer but may not be using it or only seasonally utilizing the system will have to pay $54.50 a month. It is estimated that the increase should hold the city through the near future and there should be no additional increases barring a catastrophic event and provide an additional $23,000 annually into the sewer operational budget.

There was plenty of discussion in and around this topic and all factors were looked at from those who are allowed discounted rates to new plans for the city that may possibly impact additional rate increases. It was also mentioned that an investigation was launched and found the errors from a year ago, and that disciplinary action would be taken for those people or individuals involved in the error.

Along with the approval of the sewer rate increase, Ordinance 1500 (I&I Rates) the new rate structure was approved.

With the seasonably warm summer the city also brought out Ordinance 1501, Water Shortage Response Plan, as a first reading. This ordinance deals with possible potable water shortages based on the increased temperatures this year and what will take place if an emergency is declared.

Four stages of emergency implementation will be enacted should the city fall into an emergency situation. If it is determined that a potable water shortage exists or is imminent, Stage One will place residents into an odd and even daily watering schedule for three hour am and pm time slots. It also restricts restaurants to not serve water unless directly asked to help reduce dish washing.

Stage Two: (Includes Stage One restrictions); prohibits exterior washing of buildings, sidewalks, streets, etc., except as necessary for public safety. Also no filling of pools, spas ponds or artificial lakes and washing of vehicles or boats is prohibited.

Stage Three: (Includes both Stage One and Two); prohibits use of city water for irrigation and closes pools, wading pools and splash facilities.

Stage Four (Includes previous restrictions): prohibits all irrigation and outdoor use of city water. This stage also impacts commercial, industrial and institutional facilities as well to a greater extent. But keeps sanitation and fire protection available.

This is just a short brief of the restrictions that will be enacted if necessary and with every restriction there are exceptions. Violations are scheduled to be a surcharge on water bills ranging from a first violation at $100 to $500 for those who fail to comply.

The city also has moved forward with the sale/donation of the South Bend City Pier to the Port of Willapa Harbor. The pier will still have public access, but will be maintained by the Port of Willapa Harbor.

More items were covered with the review of bids for upcoming work on the Central Avenue sewer line replacement, awarded to Nova Contracting and the Cedar/Cowlitz Streets sidewalk project awarded to Nor Tec Contracting. This meeting also brought out the South Bend City six-year transportation improvement plan charted through 2021. Scheduled for 2016 the 4th Street (Willapa Avenue to Pacific Avenue) and Pacific Avenue (4th Street to 1st Street) will be possible; 2017 is Kendrick Street and 2018 is 1st Street. The mayor cautioned that this is just planning for the next six years and things may change as it is updated each year.

During Department Head Reports, South Bend Police Chief Eastham gave a very happy report from the Fourth of July, stating that this was one of the quietest nights he has witnessed.

"We only had three firework related calls this year," said the chief. "I cannot thank the residents of the city more. It was a very quiet night for us all. Everybody took the warnings very seriously this year, I could not be prouder of the city."

During the Mayor's Report a request came across her table to allow a beer garden at the Labor Day softball tournament; it was granted and she noted that the city would have a booth at this year's Pacific County Fair and needs help from the city council.

The next meeting for the South Bend City Council will be on July 27 at 5:30 pm.