Oak Harbor delays decision on utility rate increase

The Oak Harbor City Council has delayed a decision to increase the city’s utility rates largely due to unemployment caused by the COVID-19 health crisis.

Much of the proposed rate increase is driven by unanticipated costs associated with the new sewage treatment plant. In May, the Oak Harbor City Council was provided with four different options that would determine how much the utility rates would increase.

During the Tuesday’s teleconference meeting, the council did not vote to increase rates. Instead, the council is now looking at possibly making a decision in October.

“Our residents are in enough stress,” Councilman Jeff Mack said. “We don’t need to jump the gun and add more stress and warn them about a rate increase.”

Councilman Jim Woessner said there are pending issues, including negotiations to add Navy housing units to the city’s wastewater system and the status of upcoming building developments, that could have an effect on the future of the utility rates.

Woessner said he is hoping more information will come to light in the coming months.

“I make decisions upon known things,” Woessner said. “I just feel there’s so many unknowns that are going to occur over the next few months that could have an impact on how we structure this in 2021, 2022, 2023.”

Councilman Joel Servatius, who in the past was in favor of making a decision on the rate increase, said he has had a change of heart.

“I’m not one to put off maintenance or infrastructure improvements because that doesn’t usually get better with time,” Servatius said but he added, “when I talk to people that have been out of work for two to three months, I think I have become a lot more sensitive.”

Councilwoman Tara Hizon said she is worried about giving residents sufficient time to prepare for the increase.

“I don’t want to wait until October or November to tell people, ‘By the way, your bills are going up $14 a month as of January 2021,’” she said.

“That would also be a disservice. Fourteen dollars a month might not sound like a whole lot, but it adds up, especially when they’ve been struggling for months and months.”

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