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Lebanon council hears about water billing fluctuations

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LEBANON — Some Lebanon homeowners have received water bills that are as much as $100 to $200 more than usual, City Manager Gary Marks told members of the City Council Wednesday evening.

But Marks said others are seeing their bills decrease a bit as well.

Marks believes two key factors explain the billing fluctuations.

About three months ago, the city took its water billing process in-house. For years, the job had been farmed out, but the city believes it can save up to $30,000 a year by using its own maintenance staff workers.

Marks said staff time was freed up when the council decided to no longer place door hangers as part of its water shut-off program.

“The council reworked the billing process before I came on board and we ended up saving a lot of time there,” Marks said. “That got the ball rolling that we might look at doing our own meter reading.”

And by doing the readings in-house, the city found there had been a number of inaccurate readings.

“There were a few surprises,” Marks said. “Somehow, some meters weren’t being read properly.”

Also, earlier this year, the city began changing out old water meters, some of which are more than 20 years old.

Marks said 1,149 meters have been replaced so far, about 20 percent of the city’s total inventory.

“As water meters age their accuracy in correctly measuring water use diminishes,” Marks said.

Marks said that increasing the accuracy in water meters could result in higher (or lower) readings than what residents are used to seeing.

“Updating and maintaining the city’s metering accuracy assures that utility billings are based on accurate readings and assures equality among utility customers,” he said.

Marks said the city is working with individuals who are facing substantial billing differences, including offering payment schedules.

“We are happy to read someone’s meter again if they would like,” Marks said. “It goes to fairness and accuracy.”

In other business, the council:

• Set a special session for noon on Wednesday, Oct. 22 at the Santiam Travel Station to discuss the possibility of taxing marijuana if Oregon residents approve its legalization on the November ballot. Although several councilors said they oppose marijuana legalization, staff noted that legalization would surely created additional costs for the Police Department. Taxes could mitigate those additional costs. City Attorney Tre’ Kennedy added that if the city does not elect to impose a tax before the Nov. 4 balloting, it may not be able to do so later based on state statutes.

• Approved writing a letter of support for a proposed Santiam-Calapooia Scenic Bikeway through Lebanon, proposed by the Santiam Spokes bicycle club.

• Was told by the city manager that the city has received a gold award from the League of Oregon Cities and the City-County Insurance Services for going a year without a lost-time accident. Marks credited a commitment to safety among the city’s more than 80 employees and the work of an active safety committee.

Alex Paul is the Linn County reporter for the Democrat-Herald. He can be contacted at 541-812-6114 or alex.paul@lee.net.

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