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Nevada County supes hike sewer rate

It cost more bucks to flush

Some Nevada County residents will pay more for sewer fees after a unanimous vote Tuesday by supervisors to increase wastewater rates over the next five years.

Brad Torres, wastewater operations manager, said the current average cost of treating a gallon of water is 1.5 cents but will rise to 2.5 cents over the rate period extending through fiscal year 2025-26.

The average household discharges some 196 gallons per day, said Torres. However, there are 10 different zones that fit under the umbrella of the sanitation district. Each zone pays its own direct costs as well as a shared proportion of certain overhead costs. Therefore, not all zones’ fees will increase the exact same amount each year for the next five years.



For example, in the Mountain Lake Estates, residents pay $565 per year for wastewater treatment. But starting July 1, when the new fiscal year, begins their rates rise to $593.

The North San Juan zone pays $785 per year, but in July their rate rises to $864.




The cost of electricity, gas, as well as maintenance of underground pipes and other infrastructure varies from from one zone to the next, said Rick Simonson, senior vice president of HF&H Consultants, LLC, which was contracted to perform the proposed rate fee study.

Each zone is responsible for the operations and maintenance specific to their zone. They must have enough revenue to run the system and capital improvement reserves to replace worn infrastructure, which occus at different times in different zones, in addition to be able to pay debt service if funds are required to complete a needed infrastructure project. And if there is a breakdown in the pipes of one zone, the residents of a different zone should not be required to pay.

“Nobody likes higher utility fees, but we work hard to keep our lakes, rivers and streams clean and safe,” said Torres.

VOTE OF THE PEOPLE

In California, Proposition 218 (passed in 1996) allows property owners to vote on whether assessed property fees can be raised by a government body. Ratepayers must submit a written protest on the day of the public hearing, and they need at least 50% plus one vote. If that threshold is attained, then the will of the ratepayers prevails and can deny the legislative body from approving a rate increase.

For the sanitation district’s sewer rate fee increase, the requirement was 2,906 votes to deny an increase. There were only 1,184 protest letters presented to the board.

Thomas Benoit was one property owner who spoke in opposition.

Benoit said some increased fee are necessary. However, he was opposed to the manner in which the public was notified. Notices was distributed on social media, through broadcast stations, print media and mail, which is how Benoit was alerted. Because of the generic address code of the flyer mailed out, Benoit initially thought it was junk mail and nearly threw it in the trash.

“I’m opposed to it because it’s a burden to renters, landlords and hard working families and seniors on fixed income,” said Benoit. “Lake Wildwood pays 67% more by 2025-26. And Lake of the Pines pays 88% more after five years. I loved how they worded it ‘proposed charge rates adjustments.’”

Simonson noted the resolution recommended three zones be combined into one large one; Lake Wildwood, Penn Valley and Valley Oak Court. In addition, Lake of the Pines and Higgins Village were combined into one zone.

“The consolidation helps cut the costs with the proposed rates (by 2025-26) than if they had not consolidated,” he said. “Each zone still pays its own specific costs, but now these bigger zones will share some costs.”

William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at wroller@theunion.com


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