Buy-in fees recommended for new scrutiny

Grangeville City Hall

GRANGEVILLE — A campaign issue raised during council elections this fall, equity buy-in fees are planned for new scrutiny, possible changes, and a public informational hearing.

Public works director Jeff McFrederick discussed with the Grangeville City Council at its Nov. 20 meeting his discussion with J-U-B Engineers on setting up a workshop and follow-up public meeting on the buy-in fees to explain their purpose and the water study scope data used to calculate these.

“We’re not changing these just to change,” McFrederick said. Important for the public to understand in this issue is new connections to the system are just one part of these fees, and that the impact to the system is the main issue.

“Equipment for the treatment plant goes up 10 percent every five years,” he said, notably chemical costs involved in phosphorous extraction required as part of the city’s NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit to discharge treated effluent into Three Mile Creek. As there are only three vendors that supply needed plant equipment, the city is essentially at their mercy on what they charge for product, according to McFrederick: “They call the shots,” he said.

Looking at the city’s existing fee schedule, he said, “we’re not that bad,” in comparison with what other municipalities charge. Mayor Bruce Walker added that as per J-U-B recommendations when the fees were first set up, the city should have been raising these 6 percent annually to adjust for increasing costs.

Earlier in March, McFrederick raised the fees issue with the council, specifically recommending revisiting the schedule for possible adjustments. One was changes that would allow the city to receive its fair share for system operations. The second would be flexibility in payments, and also fee assessments based on differences in types of residential utility usage that may encourage development of housing and commercial properties.

The equity buy-in fees, established in 2005, are charged to new developments that do not have existing services; these are $1,540 for water and $2,860 for sewer. Fees are dedicated toward utility system upgrades and expansions, and how these are charged is based on equivalent residence (ER) for the development in question. For example, a new single-family home (at one ER) could be charged with one buy-in fee, and a new 10-unit apartment complex (at 10 ERs) would be charged a fee for each unit.

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