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Water Fee Increase Covers Test Costs

FALLS CITY -- Water rate payers in Falls City will notice a new fee on their bill beginning in November.A $3.50 fee added to utility bills will pay for a long-overdue test needed to assure safety of the city's water supply.The Falls City City Council approved the fee, along with a contract to have "backflow" testing conducted, at its Oct. 9 meeting. Testing began last week. Backflow testing on water connections is required yearly by the state. Annual checks test devices that prevent water that has already been pumped into a house, business or other structure from re-entering the water system."It's designed to protect the water system from contamination," said City Administrator Amber Mathiesen.The last record of Falls City connections having been tested was in 2005, putting the city in violation with the Oregon Department of Health, Mathiesen said.Health department officials found the deficiency during an inspection and asked the city to submit a plan correcting the violation.Mathiesen said backflow testing is the responsibility of the ratepayer. But city staff researched cost and found it would be less expensive to have the city contract with one firm to conduct testing. Currently, the city has 445 connections.The average cost for a resident to have one connection tested is about $35, according to Mathiesen, but if the city hired one firm to do all tests, the price fell to $20. Testing will cost the city $9,790, assuming a 10 percent retest rate for backflow devices that fail and require additional checks. The city will recoup the cost with the new fee. Amber Mathieson "It's a pretty good savings, $35 to $20," Mathiesen said. "We will be billing monthly, so the cost will be spread out throughout the year." However, as the test is required annually, the fee will be permanent. Starting in July 2014, the rate will be lower because the cost will be spread over 12 months instead of seven for this fiscal year. Effective July 1, 2014 the fee will be $2.25.

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