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Cob Approves Contract For Leak Analysis

Utility tax increases recommended

The city of Bingen is once again relying on the engineering firm of Gray & Osborne to help out with the city's water infrastructure.

During an Oct. 18 Bingen City Council meeting, council members voted to approve a contract with Gray & Osborne that would assist Bingen in solving its Distribution System Leakage issues. Gray & Osborne has previously worked on expanding the city's wastewater treatment plant in the mid-90s and recently were consulted to develop a long-term wastewater and sewer plan for Bingen.

These leaks have sprung from a variety of sources. According to an Oct. 13 memorandum from City Administrator Jan Brending to Mayor Betty Barnes and City Council members, a July 2010 city-conducted leak detection survey discovered possible leaks at four primary locations. These included a valve at a non-operational mill on SDS property on the east side of Bingen, a leak at a private residence, another at the intersection of Alder and Lincoln Streets, and the "old" water line coming down SR 141 from White Salmon.

Bingen calculates that in 2010, the city leaked 46.54 percent of its water. The city currently has a goal of achieving a DSL rate of 10 percent or less to comply with the Washington State Department of Health goals.

The project with Gray & Osborne, which is estimated to cost $5,735, is supposed to provide an analysis and possible solutions to the city's DSL issues. Part of the engineering firm's proposed approach is to review the water production and consumption figures since 2009, to verify that Bingen is calculating the DSL figures correctly, and to make sure that the meter reading program is accounting for all water consumption.

The city is also taking steps on its end to make sure that water is accounted for. According to the memorandum, Bingen is in the process of evaluating a "magnetic flowmeter" at the SR 14 intertie to make sure it is measuring water usage correctly. The memorandum states that "this is where the majority of purchased water comes into the city of Bingen."

The city will also be checking average meter reads for high-usage customers and comparing them to previous years, to see if there are major differences in water consumption. An old utility billing system is also being checked to make sure that all the accounts were carried over into the new system. The city has also checked to make sure that there are no multipliers on any other meters besides the SDS Lumber meter. Due to what city officials have said was an oversight, the multiplier of 1,000 was not factored in for seven years, and resulted in millions of gallons of unaccounted water, which was originally considered leakage before the error was discovered.

The city of Bingen also announced at the Oct. 18 council meeting that the budget committee is recommending taxes on utilities in 2012 to help reduce the budget deficit. According to an Oct. 13 memorandum from the Bingen Budget Committee to the Bingen City Council, garbage and water utilities would be taxed at 6 percent, and sewer utilities would be taxed at 10 percent.

Customers won't bear the extra cost from the water and sewer taxes, because they are city-owned utilities. These taxes would show up as expenditures in the water and sewer funds and as revenue in the current expense fund. However, since garbage utilities are not owned by the city, Brending said if approved, the six percent increase would show up on customers' bills, starting in January.

A city ordinance also accounts for an annual 5 percent increase in sewer and water rates. If the city council feels the rates are appropriate, customers will receive letters in their mailboxes notifying them of the increase, which would take place on January 1, 2012.

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