Water rates likely to increase over next decade
La Grande water rates may continue to rise over the next decade to maintain funds for capital improvements.
Engineers from Anderson Perry and Associates told city councilors in a Monday night work session that the system is in fairly good shape but that improvements should be made in the next few years to ensure the city has an adequate water supply for the next century.
The engineers went over the city's Water System Master Plan, the first plan since the one done in 1998.
In discussing system requirements, Howard Perry of Anderson Perry said the system is a little under capacity, but that the system has adequate storage space for future needs.
"We have plenty of storage in our system," Perry said.
In terms of distribution, Perry said there are two spots that need to be upsized to meet projected needs for fire flow. One area includes Sunset Blvd. and Alder Street while another spot is the area around Central Elementary School and La Grande High School. Improvements would address those deficiencies, Perry said.
"Other than that, your system is in really good shape," he said. "Water supply is where our needs will be in the future."
Perry noted that there are currently unused water rights.
"This becomes important as we start talking about future needs," Perry said.
Anderson Perry presented the council with several alternatives, at varying costs, that will help prepare the system for the next 100+ years.
Councilors also discussed how the city will pay for such improvements. The water fund currently has an ending fund balance of a little over $380,000 and will need to see an increase in revenue to cover the majority of suggested projects. According to projections in the plan, an annual 5-percent increase in water rates would likely require the city to borrow money for the projects, while an annual 10-percent increase would have the the ending fund balance in the black by 2018. The most financially sound option, however, involves a $6 rate increase in 2014-15 and an annual 5-percent increase thereafter.
"I understand what you're saying, but to the everyday citizen it just doesn't register. When they see $1.5 million in there (water ending fund balance) and we're complaining about it, I can't go out to the mill and sell that," Mayor Daniel Pokorney said.
Perry and others from the firm said current water rates are lower in La Grande than in many municipalities and that having a cash carryover of more than $1 million is beneficial, especially if projects need to be completed on short notice.
See more in Wednesday's edition of The Observer.