Water, PERS and federal funding, oh my

After a two week break, City Council and staff met again, Feb. 26, to continue discussion of the city’s long range budget planning and layout the city’s near future.

The meeting began where the previous one left off, discussing the city’s water systems. 

Overall, the city has three reservoirs, 15 pump stations, utilizes more than 127 miles of water lines and the system services 11,000 metered accounts within the city.

Price rates for water are lower in Keizer than surrounding cities due to both the ease of processing the water, which comes from an aquifer, as well as charging once a month rather than bimonthly, according to the Assistant City Manager Tim Wood. 

An example given at the meeting and displayed in meeting materials showed the monthly rate of an average Keizer home’s water consumption at $16 compared to $31 in both Salem and Woodburn.

The future of improvements to the water system include new water lines ($5.3 million) as well as adding a new reservoir and pump station ($7.8 million).

These improvements are part of the city’s 2012 Master Water Plan which requires a review every ten years, though no review may be needed as the plan requires new equipment, a requirement that cannot change as well as a lower water usage rate than predicted, according to Public Works director Bill Lawyer. 

In regards to water bill statements, Wood stated that many residents utilize both paper and online methods of payment noting that switching to online payment methods are preferred due to its lowered cost on the city.

Wood added that customers paying via ACH or debit is preferable to credit card as well as it helps the city avoid extra fees from credit card companies for processing which can reach up to $150,000 per year.

The task force discussed an increased rate (3-4%) for water usage next year to keep in line with Salem sewer price rates with average residential homes seeing an $8 increase in their water bill by the end of 2025. 

The task force discussed the storm water system in conversation next, first highlighting comparable rates of what Keizerites pay. 

Generally, Keizer citizens pay significantly less than surrounding cities at $7.66 a month while Salem charges up to $20 per month for services. 

Utility rates have gone down in Keizer specifically due to the city’s Public Works department changing how it cared for the pipes describing how instead of reacting to issues, they now prevent them by maintaining cleaner water pipes which aids in water flow and reduces the chance for damage, according to Lawyer. 

The last rate increase for the storm water fund was in Jan. 2021 with no upcoming increase predicted, according to Wood. 

The American Rescue Act Plan (ARPA) was brought up next with discussion about past expenditures as well as anticipated ones going into 2025.

ARPA funds are given with the intent that they aid workers, families, small businesses and industries. 

Wood noted during the meeting that federal regulations maintaining how funds can be spent have loosened though three rules remain: ARPA funds cannot be used to pay down PERS obligations, ligation settlements or debt repayment.

Overall, the city received $11,670,850 to allocate by Dec. 2024 and fully spend by Dec. 2026.

From 2021-22, the city allocated $440,300 on eight different projects while from 2022-23, the city allocated $2.1 million on 19 projects. 

From 2023-2024, there are 18 projects the city wants to allocate funds to with the anticipated amount at $7.1 million. 

These projects include the Keizer Rapids turf field ($4 million), an Event center storage area ($800,000) and for employee recruitment and backfill of critical positions ($428,000). 

For the 2024-25 time frame, the city is allocating the remaining $1.9 million on nine potential projects (so far) such as resolving the PERS salary issues, updating the city website and creating a sidewalk installation and repair program. 

The task force brought up a PERS policy the city adopted in 2021, SB 1049, that allowed employers to rehire retired workers in a limited duration position who reached retirement age under PERS. 

Overall, the policy would allow the city to rehire experienced workers at a lower rate due to the 6% remittance of the employer’s PERS obligation. 

In practice, this policy has saved the city money just shy of $100,000 as 7 of the 18 eligible city employees have been rehired under this policy. 

An example given displayed a step 7 employee with a total compensation amount at $123,602 and step 1 employee at $94,010. 

Due to the 6% PERS remittance, however, a rehired step 7 employee would only cost the city $95,470, allowing the city to retain older experienced workers rather than hiring new ones. 

The task force presented a few ideas for paying down the city’s PERS obligations. 

Two primary methods are available to the city to help alleviate this issue, increase revenues or reduce expenses, with city staff trying to figure out how to perpetually reduce expenses. 

An example was given of the 2024 General Budget amount for Keizer, $16.5 million, and PERS obligations equal to around $1.8 million paid out in pensions from the General fund. 

Provided the city can pay down the PERS Underfunded Accrued Liability (UAL) obligation ($1.4 million), or was fully funded, the city could repurpose that money to provide more services to the city, according to task force documentation. 

The current plan to pay down the UAL revolves around leasing property for development in Keizer Station to increase as well as diversify revenue sources. 

A review presented by the task force, however, determined that the city is not a good property owner or manager, according to reports conducted by city staff. 

In order to alleviate issues stemming from this, an alternative strategy is to put the Keizer station city-owned properties in the hands of developers and use the proceeds to pay down the UAL, according to Brown and task force documentation.

Contact Quinn Stoddard
[email protected] or 503-390-105

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