PENDLETON -The City Council approved a 50-cent water meter rate increase to help pay for firefighter equipment costs.

The increase in water fee rates came as a regular increase to meet with the higher cost of equipment, said Fire Chief John Fowler. The money will go toward larger equipment such as vehicles.

"We've done a lot to try and keep our costs down," Fowler said. "But without increasing we will face some real difficulties."

The rate originally was instigated in 1994 and set at 75 cents per single family residence per month. A graduating scale increased the rate according to meter size.

"This funding was created to share the wealth and allow everyone to pay a fair share," said Mayor Phil Houk.

In 2002, the base rate was increased to $1.25 per month with a plan in place to raise it again this year to $1.75 per month.

"We think we're doing the right thing," Fowler said.

Council member Marjorie Iburg asked Fowler if the study into a fire district would take care of the funding problem.

"I would hesitate to say we should wait based on the potential to create a fire district," Fowler said. He also said he didn't want to wait to increase fees as the fire department needs equipment such as a new engine sooner than the study will be complete.

Council member Steve Taylor asked why the fire department couldn't just wait a month or two for the current fund to accrue enough money to purchase the equipment.

Houk answered saying the fire department had a schedule of items to replace and waiting a few months would offset the entire list.

Fowler also said he wanted to purchase a new engine before certain fuel standards changed and drove the cost of the vehicle higher.

Though no equipment is out of order, Fowler said the engine is 20 years old and is getting more and more difficult to purchase parts.

The council approved the rate increase in a five-to-two vote. Council members Cheryl Beck, Cheryl Marier, Dan Ceniga, John Brenne and John Boston voted for the increase. Council members Iburg and Taylor voted against it. Council member Steven Bjerke was absent.

See Thursday's paper for a story on the City Council's discussion of the possible business fee increase to fund an economic development position.

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