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City switches to monthly utility bills


Change poses tradeoffs

The city of Lake Oswego will move back toward monthly water bills in hopes of improving conservation efforts and making residents’ high costs easier to swallow.

The city has raised rates in recent years to pay for infrastructure repairs and improvements. In addition, the city implemented a variable water rate on top of a fixed rate. That means people who use more water than others generally pay higher rates.

But the subsequent jumps on bills looked even more severe thanks to the city’s bimonthly billing system. They also didn’t allow residents to quickly identify how much water they were using and try to conserve in hopes of scaling back their costs the following month.

So, while that approach generally halved administrative costs, it didn’t really encourage conservation, which was the point in establishing a system with variable fees in the first place, said Ursula Euler, Lake Oswego finance director.

“When a city does something like that, it makes sense to bill more frequently than every two months so people who start to conserve and change their behavior can see that in their bills,” Euler recently told the city council. “With bimonthly billing we have not been able to offer that sort of feedback.”

The council considered some potential tradeoffs of the switch.

While the city will likely field fewer calls from customers upset or confused about big expenses, monthly billing will cost the city about $112,000 more in contracts and materials.

“We would be spending more time just sitting at a desk pounding out those invoices,” Euler said. As a result, she said, “We need to find some efficiencies elsewhere.”

That would likely happen through the collections process.

To date, Lake Oswego has given its utility customers plenty of leeway in making payments.

If property owners are late in paying three times over a 12-month period, they receive letters letting them know their bills are overdue. About 200 to 300 people receive those penalty letters each month. And rarely does the city shut off their water service, Euler said.

“The number of shutoffs we actually do for any billing cycle ... is fewer than I have fingers on my hand,” Euler said. “We are very hesitant to turn water off.”

The Lake Oswego Budget Committee, made up of the city council along with seven citizen volunteers, recommended the council consider switching to monthly billing last year.

The city council unanimously approved making the change Feb. 4.

“With any change, there are going to be misunderstandings and difficulties, but I think this is a positive change and people will appreciate it once it gets going,” Councilor Donna Jordan said.

The new monthly billing is anticipated to begin this spring.

Kara Hansen can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 107. Follow her on Twitter, @LOreporter.