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Winlock approves final change to utility fee ordinance

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The Winlock City Council is close to revamping their utility billing practices as the final anticipated changes to Ordinance 954 were approved during their June 23 meeting, while updates to the city’s billing software were also discussed.

Begun in February as part of efforts to improve the city’s bottom line, increases in fees related to sewer/water hookups and late charges, as well as how late accounts are defined and penalized, have led to significant changes in Ors. 954, governing such fees. These most recent changes, supported unanimously by the council, are expected to be presented as an official ordinance during their next meeting, with no further changes expected at this time.

Among changes was the establishment of a $5,000 sewer hookup fee for service outside the city limits, as such services are not currently offered but are expected as efforts continue to extend utilities along SR 505 to the industrial park by I-5.

Also approved was a 20 percent administrative charge applied to the costs of installing pipes and meters for new hookups, when such fixtures are not already in place, in order to cover the expenses incurred by the city clerk’s office during installations.

Additionally, the council approved a dormant fee for those who request to have their sewer and water service temporarily shut off, at a rate of half the normal monthly charge for services, as well as a decrease in the timeline for hookup abandonment from 24 to 12 months of non-payment, in the case of delinquent accounts.

“That keeps people still paying in so then the rest of the town doesn’t have to make up for that,” said Council Member Aaron Mummert of the dormant fee. “And hopefully it keeps owners having renters in their house, as well.”

Also discussed was the possibility of offering a limited-time reduced sewer hookup fee for those living outside the city limits once such services are available. Council members said they would feel comfortable offering $4,000 rather than $5,000 for a hookup to those who wished to opt in early, with City Attorney Erin Hillier noting the practice of offering special rates during infrastructure expansion is common among other cities.

In regard to the extension of utilities along SR 505, Dowell said the city continues to pursue the acquisition of property to build a pump station for the new lines stating, once the property is acquired, engineers may finalize their plans for the project, eventually making it shovel-ready and eligible for grants and loans to begin construction.

It has been noted $30,000 for the acquisition of the pump station property was dedicated earlier this year from the Evelyn Miller Trust Fund, which was established last year after the death of long-time resident Evelyn Miller, who bequeathed close to $1 million for the betterment of the city.

Dowell told the council Winlock is also seeking funding from the Miller Trust to help offset costs related to the ongoing upgrade of the city’s billing software, which is intended to replace the city’s previous DOS-based system. Dowell said these upgrades have been in conjunction with Winlock’s acquisition of new computers to support Windows 7, in light of Microsoft no longer supporting Windows XP as of April.

Dowell told the council the purchase and installation of the software may cost around $30,000, including mileage, lodging and per-diem payments to the software company’s staff as they spend time instructing city employees. Dowell said, after speaking with the trustees of Miller’s fund, the upgrade of the city’s software meets the expectations of the fund’s intent, and Winlock will be formally requesting reimbursement after an invoice from the software company is received sometime this month.

Dowell said the new software is expected to benefit Winlock by being able to keep budgets for the sewer and water services separate, which he said will enable Winlock to pursue grant programs requiring such separations at a time when significant upgrades to both utility systems are needed.

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