Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – The City Council last week renewed the coronavirus state of emergency, and in a letter of appreciation, thanked Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich for her leadership.
“You have shown a steadfast commitment to protecting our community members’ lives and health, and your deep respect and knowledge of science has served us all through these challenging times,” said the letter. The letter also acknowledged “healthcare professionals, emergency support staff and first responders in our region.”
Utility rate increases
The meeting’s most weighty item was the increase in water and wastewater rates for property owners over the next five years. Water rates are to rise beginning in September, and wastewater in January of next year.
Environmental Services Director Mark Andre said 30 valid protest letters had been received regarding the rate hikes, far fewer than the 50 percent plus one of the roughly 6,000 water and wastewater customers that would be required to halt the rate increase.
The rate increases are in support of the $55 to $64 million project to upgrade Arcata’s aging Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP). The new rates are the result of a consultant’s study, and several subsequent public hearings.
Andre said the average in-city water customer pays about $28 per month for water, which will jump to $38 in the first year’s hike. Smaller increases will follow in subsequent years culminating in a roughly $41 average charge in 2024/2025. Consumers of Arcata water outside city limits will pay more.
Wastewater rates are pushing higher due to capital improvement projects on old infrastructure totaling $75.2 million, $64.4 of which are for the WWTP. This includes a conversion to ultraviolet purification from chlorine-based treatment. Maintaining regulatory compliance and avoiding costly fines for illegal discharges is another goal.
The average residential wastewater ratepayer’s monthly charge is presently $49.62, jumping 10 percent to $54.99 next year, $60.49 the following year and ending up at $77.61 in 2024/2025.
Each year’s increases will be reviewed by the council, and could be modified.
The sewer funding is boosted by $7 million in recent grants plus “significant” further grants to assist in upgrading the WWTP.
Several letters from the public which were read at the meeting staunchly opposed the rate increases.
Councilmember Brett Watson acknowledged that the increases were “horrible,” but “needed very badly.” The four-member council then unanimously approved the fee increase language, with final approval set for this week's council meeting.