By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Expect to see storm water rates in Keizer to go up soon.
Keizer City Councilors held a work session Nov. 13 – held a day later than normal due to Veterans Day being observed Monday – to discuss a proposal to raise rates for the Storm Water Fund.
Susan Gahlsdorf, Finance director for Keizer, explained the proposed a $.45 per Equivalent Stormwater Unit (ESU) increase each January for the next five years, starting in 2013.
“We set it up to be a five-year plan,” Gahlsdorf said while showing councilors the Storm Water Fund. “We want to get to the point where the program is self-sustained. We want the structure to where it is stabilized in five years.”
Several staff members and councilors pointed out Keizer has only had a Storm Water Fund for the past five years.
“We don’t have nearly the knowledge of this utility as we do water and sewer,” councilor Mark Cailier said. “Staff has been conservative with increases and built something from nothing in five years. Stuff gets added. As we renew permits, there will be additional opportunities to serve. This makes us deal with a system we have limited knowledge of. We inherited a bunch of stuff from Marion County. In the next five years our knowledge will grow considerably.”
Bill Lawyer, Public Works director for Keizer who proposed the increase, said staff is still learning what the inventory is and what condition pipes around the city are in.
“I remember we had heavy rain on June 13, 2009,” Lawyer said. “It washed out a sewer line. It was an immediate repair. It was $262,000 just for the construction cost. It was a problem we did not anticipate. We had to spend money from another fund. We cannot continue to do it.”
Elizabeth Sagmiller, Environmental Program coordinator for Keizer since 2008, said the first stormwater permit was issued in 2007.
Two ordinances and two more permits have been issued since them.
“We didn’t start with much,” Sagmiller said. “We said we had 54 miles of pipe, 80 UICs (Underground Injection Control), unknown number of manholes and 1,600 catch basins. Today we have 80 miles of pipe, 95 UICs, 1,271 manholes and 3,172 catch basins. Today we now know the numbers are closer to the real inventory. It’s nearly a 40 percent increase from what we originally planned for. Now we are finding maintenance work that was previously unidentified.”
As proposed, the current monthly stormwater rate of $3.825 per ESU would go up to $4.273 on Jan. 1. Staff presented scenarios of what the impact would be on different types of places. For Safeway with 86 ESUs, the monthly bill would go from the current $328.95 to $367.44.
For Whiteaker Middle School and its 94 ESUs, the monthly bill would increase from $359.55 to $401.62. Hidden Creek Apartments, with 44 ESUs, would increase from $168.30 a month to $187.99 a month.
Councilor David McKane wondered if citizens would be concerned about employees being added in a tough budget time and also noted some confusion between funds.
“Where I struggle is where the street fund ends and the storm water fund begins,” McKane said. “When we started this fund five years ago, I envisioned public outreach, what to do or don’t do.”
Lawyer pointed out city officials are still figuring out how much to put into the budget for storm water versus other funds.
“What it doesn’t account for is major upgrades and major system failures,” Lawyer said. “In the water system, we have 60 years of experience. This one is a brand new utility. We don’t have the experience with this one.”