The Ashland City Council has decided to give residents a reprieve from planned utility rate increases.

The Ashland City Council has decided to give residents a reprieve from planned utility rate increases.

City Councilwoman Carol Voisin said given the troubled local and national economy, the council should avoid raising utility bills.

"There are people who are really hurting," she said.

A council majority decided on Tuesday night not to consider utility rate increases, at least for now.

Ashland Finance Director Lee Tuneberg had recommended that the City Council not raise a street user fee that appears on utility bills because the state government is sharing more transportation revenue with cities.

An earlier city budget forecast said a 3 percent increase would be needed. That would have cost a typical family of four another 24 cents each month, according to city estimates.

Tuneberg also recommended against raising storm drain fees until after the city gets storm drain data in July 2011.

The current city budget anticipated a 5 percent increase, which would have cost a family another 21 cents.

Tuneberg recommended a 2 percent electric rate increase this year because the Bonneville Power Administration, which wholesales power to the Ashland Electric Department, plans to raise rates by 7 percent or more in the future.

A 2 percent electric rate increase would have cost the average family another $2 per month.

Tuneberg said that smaller electric rate increases done over time could be easier for some residents to handle.

Voisin and Councilmen Eric Navickas, Greg Lemhouse, Russ Silbiger and David Chapman voted against scheduling a public hearing to discuss rate increases. That hearing would have been the first step in adopting rate increases.

Councilwoman Kate Jackson wanted to hold a public hearing, saying a large electric utility bill hike in the future would be hard to handle.

Jackson also pointed out that the city has a $2 million annual backlog on street maintenance work.

"I'm actually trying to be fiscally prudent," she said.

Tuneberg said city officials are not likely to consider water and sewer rate increases until March 2011, when the city has better information on sales and costs for those services from this year.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.