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Residents of Lafayette are outraged by high water bills this month. A city debt is to blame

The city of Lafayette warned residents to expect a small increase to their water bills this month, but some say they are facing bills five times higher than normal.

LAFAYETTE, Ore — Driving through neighborhoods in the Yamhill County city of Lafayette, everything seems quintessential of idyllic small-town America — everything, that is, except the grass outside many of the homes.

“I quit watering my yard last month. I let my yard completely go dead,” said Shelly Wisdom. She's never done that in the 10 years she’s lived here. “I raised children in this house and now I’m an empty nester.”

Wisdom, along with the rest of her neighborhood, is facing a new challenge. It has to do with skyrocketing water bills.

“I have a $200 water bill with two people living in my home … some people are seeing double water bills this month. They did warn us we were going to get the increase, but we were not warned it was going to be this high,” Wisdom said.

Brandon Dross is the city administrator. He said the city warned people a few months ago to expect a small increase to their water bills this month to help the city pay off a debt owed to McMinnville Water and Light. Though, he admits they could have handled the situation differently.

“We were expecting that lower water users would see a 16-20% jump and it looks like some of them, based on usage, saw a much higher jump than they thought,” Dross said.

“We have a working-class community — they just cannot afford that,” added Wisdom.

Back in 2017, residents of Lafayette voted to increase their water rates by 4% as a way to pay for infrastructure investments to the city’s water systems. The water bills people are seeing this month are far more than that. 

“Our water bill this past month went up by $200,” added Cody Doroski, who has three kids and can’t keep up with bills this high. “I actually thought it was a mistake … one month, that’s OK, but definitely not for years to come.”

There was an emergency community meeting about this last week, but people left with more questions than answers.

“We want everyone to hopefully hang tight, I know it’s a very stressful situation,” said Dross.

“I just hope we can find some answers. Lafayette is a wonderful community, a great place to live, and we want to keep it that way,” added Wisdom.

Dross said since they were unaware of how high some of the water bills are, all late fees will be waived this month and no one’s water will be turned off if they can’t pay their bills. There’s another city council meeting on Thursday at the fire station where people are hoping to get more answers.

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