Sewer rates may be raised soon

DOWNEY - Four months after a study revealed that the city's aging sewer system was in dire need of rehabilitation, public notices were sent to more than 26,000 property owners last week informing them of a sewer fee increase, which will cover maintenance expenses.According to the public notice, the city last increased sewer rates in 1997 and has only increased the rates twice in the last 25 years. However, staff proposed the rate increase to bring the city sewer system into compliance with stricter state requirements and to combat growing maintenance costs. In 2006, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted a Sanitary Sewer Order, which mandated that publicly-owned sewer collection systems in California provide a consistent statewide approach for reducing sewer overflows. As a result, the city issued a sewer management plan, which identified several areas in need of repair including many pipes that are well over 50-years-old. According to the plan, the improvements will total $7.92 million over the next 10 years. Under the current proposal, the average single-family household will pay a fixed bi-monthly charge of $5.48 plus a variable charge that depends on the amount of water usage. In spite of the rate increase, Public Works Director Brian Ragland assures residents that the new rate is still much lower than those of neighboring cities. "And it's not a done deal yet," said Ragland over the phone. "You can turn in a protest vote saying you're not in favor of the increase. There will be a vote on March 23. If more than 50 percent of the rate payers don't want it, there will be no increase." On Tuesday, March 23 at 7:30 p.m., the City Council will hold a public hearing where property owners and rate payers can voice their opinions and submit written protests against the proposed increase. If approved, Ragland said, the rate increase will initiate an aggressive program that will help the city to be less reactive to repairs and more proactive. "The new rate will cover our existing activities and move them up to a higher level," he said. "As our infrastructure gets older, it has more problems - we need these higher rates to improve our effectiveness." If accepted by property owners and rate payers, the new rate increase will take effect in July.

********** Published: February 12, 2010 - Volume 8 - Issue 43