The Ashland City Council has approved rate hikes that together will increase the average resident's utility bills by $10 per month beginning on July 1.
Water and sewer rates will go up by 10 percent, electricity rates will rise by 3.6 percent and storm drain and transportation utility fees will increase 2.6 percent, under a decision made earlier this week.
Together with an uptick in the electric users' tax, the rate increases will cause the average resident's monthly utility bills to rise from $157.14 to $167.35, an increase of $10.21, according to city staff estimates.
City Councilor Rich Rosenthal said he took no pleasure in raising rates, but Ashland must pay for infrastructure maintenance and improvements.
"If we don't do this, we're just kicking the can down the line," he said.
City Administrator Dave Kanner said Ashland, like many other communities, is dealing with aging and inadequate infrastructure.
"It is better to bite the bullet now and bequeath adequate infrastructure to those who will follow us," he said.
Water rates are projected to double between 2012 and 2022 as Ashland undertakes major water system infrastructure projects, including the completion of the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix pipeline to bring emergency water to Ashland.
With historically low snowpack in the hills above town, Ashland is racing to complete the pipeline to bring Medford water to Ashland by mid-August.
The sewage system is faced with infrastructure and regulatory costs, while the Ashland Electric Department has falling reserve funds and higher costs for personal services, materials and Bonneville Power Administration wholesale power and transmission charges.
Even with increasing electric bills, average Ashland residential customers will still pay about $10 less each month than people in surrounding cities served by Pacific Power, said Ashland Electric Utility and Information Technology Director Mark Holden.
The city of Ashland also offers electric bill assistance to low income households, he said.
Some residents said they are burdened by utility bills and are being driven out of Ashland by rising fees and charges.
Jackson Bangs, a volunteer with the Jackson County Fuel Committee organization, said many people cannot afford increased rates. The organization provides firewood and other aid to people who need help heating and lighting their homes.
"They have to choose between heating and eating," Bangs said.