The Salem City Council voted Monday to approve proposed increases to the city’s water, wastewater and stormwater service rates.
The increases recommended by the Water/Wastewater Task Force include a 5% increase in water rates in 2023 and 2024, a 5% increase in wastewater in 2023 and 2024 and a 5% increase in stormwater fees in 2023 and 2024.
“Nobody wants to raise rates. … A lot of the feedback we’ve gotten from the community is that ‘costs are going up, don’t raise our rates,’ ” said Councilor Chris Hoy. “The reason we have to raise the rates is because costs are going up. … This is a utility that has to financially survive. I think this is the best course to make sure that happens and to make sure we have good quality drinking water and sewer services going forward.”
In a report, city officials said the city’s utility funds remain financially sound but rate increases are needed to counter inflation and address the need for capital investments and adequate reserves.
For the average residential account in Salem, the proposed increase would equate to a $94 a month bill for water, stormwater and wastewater going up to $98.68 in 2023 and $103.57 in 2024.
Despite the increases, Salem rates are expected to be on the lower end of similarly sized cities, according to city officials.
“Salem has historically been in the middle or lower than the group of cities providing similar utility services,” staff said in a report. “With the proposed rate increases, Salem is anticipated to continue to remain ranked eighth of the eleven standard comparator cities.”
The motion passed unanimously.
Residents will begin seeing the rate increases on Jan. 1, 2023, and again on Jan. 1, 2024.
Council also voted to extend the city’s emergency utility assistance program through the end of 2024 to help residents to avoid water shut-offs due to financial hardship.
The program, which was expanded during the pandemic, has seen a dramatic increase in demand over the past four years, according to a staff report from the Public Works Department.
In 2020, $71,144 in assistance was given to 491 customers. The following year, 1,701 customers received $229,393, and 2022 is on track to surpass that amount. Current funding for the program is expected to last until next spring.
The City Council also approved a plan to extend the effective date of the program until December 2024 and authorize using up to $300,000 of utility revenue annually for funding starting in 2023.
For questions, comments and news tips, email reporter Whitney Woodworth at [email protected], call 503-910-6616 or follow on Twitter @wmwoodworth