Othello city officials to look at water-sewer rate study

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | October 7, 2020 1:00 AM

OTHELLO — Othello City Council members will be considering a study of water and sewer rates.

Othello mayor Shawn Logan said the city traditionally has set its rates by looking at towns of similar size and what they charge. But going forward city officials and the council need more accurate information on what it actually costs to provide those services, he said.

Council members discussed utility rates and determining utility system costs after a presentation at the regular council meeting on Oct. 5.

Logan said city officials need to make sure water and sewer charges actually reflect the costs of operating the system. In addition, city officials should be able to explain to city residents why rates are set where they are. “There really needs to be some justification for that,” Logan said.

The first step would be setting some goals, Logan said, deciding how much money the city needs to run its water and sewer systems, and what parts of the system will need to be replaced, upgraded or expanded over time.

Logan cited recent discussions on the city’s existing water lines, and that miles of them need to be replaced. But that same discussion was going on when he was on the council 30 years ago, he said.

Council member John Lallas said he liked the idea of a rate study, because city officials need to know the value of the existing system and how much it costs to maintain it. Logan said city officials also need to know how much the city should be keeping in its reserves for emergencies. If a well needed emergency repairs this week, the city would have trouble paying for it from the water fund, Logan said.

Council member Genna Dorow said she thought the information would provide more transparency for Othello residents.

In other business, the council awarded about $62,500 in grants to local businesses and organizations, and agreed to ask for another round of applications for the grant program.

The grants were paid for by money given to cities and states as part of federal efforts to combat some of the economic effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. The council had awarded an earlier round of grants, and council members asked Logan to contact businesses and make sure they knew of the program.

Logan said he did, personally visiting businesses and organizations, and that the city received additional funding, which he recommended awarding in the second round of grants. There’s about $40,000 left, and Logan suggested soliciting a third round of applications.

The city will be required to return any money that’s not spent, Logan said. Council member Cory Everett said he would prefer awarding it to local businesses to returning it.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com.