Like it or not, rates are going up in McKinleyville

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

McKINLEYVILLE – Starting July 1, sewer rates are going up in McKinleyville and will continue to rise for the next four years. By 2019, the rate for an average single-family household will have increased by about 92 percent compared to the current rate.

The rate increase was unanimously approved by the McKinleyville Community Services District (MCSD) Board of Directors at its meeting June 3. The rate increase will help pay for a $17 million upgrade to the district’s sewer plant, as well as the increased cost of running and maintaining the system, and other sewer improvements.

Last week’s meeting included a protest hearing, during which residents had an opportunity to shoot down the increase per the provisions of Prop. 18. The state law gives customers the opportunity to prevent rate hikes if they can get more than 50 percent of customers to submit written protests. But the Mack Town effort to kill the rate hike fell short, with only 76 protests out of 6,000 customers.

Those who spoke at the meeting said they were surprised by the size of the increase, with some expressing frustration over rising costs in general. As one man pointed out, rates aren’t the only thing rising. So have local property taxes to pay for bonds. Taxpayers, he said, have “taken a beating.”

A common complaint was how the rate increase would affect residents on fixed incomes.

“Do you folks have any idea how many fixed income residents are living in your district?” said resident Al Freeman.

Another complaint that came from the five people who spoke against the increase was that many residents were not aware that the MCSD was raising rates.

However, later in the meeting, MCSD Manager Greg Orsini pointed out that articles about the rate increases appeared in the Mad River Union. There were press releases printed in the Union and the Times-Standard. Information was posted in the MCSD website, and notices were mailed to each customer. Orsini also appeared on KIEM-TV news programming.

“I truly did everything in my power to make sure the people in this community were well aware of what’s going on,” Orsini told the board.

As for the sewer upgrade, it’s been in the works since about 2005. It’s been discussed at MCSD meetings. The district also held special meetings to inform residents about the project.

When it came back to the board for discussion, directors explained that the sewer upgrade needs to be done in order to keep the district in compliance with state water discharge requirements. Failure to do so could result in massive fines.

“I feel your pain,” MCSD Director Dennis Mayo told the audience, “but I think this is a very judicious thing we’re doing and we need to do it.”

Director David Couch, who works for the City of Arcata’s sewer department, said that the MCSD is pursuing a frugal solution to solve the problem. “We’re not going for a Cadillac, we’re going for a little Chevy economy car,” Couch said.

Director George Wheeler noted that work on designing the sewer upgrade began long before he was elected in 2013. “This board has beat this thing to death,” Wheeler said. “A lot of work has gone into this over many years.”

The first increase will start July 1. A single family residence using 800 cubic feet of water a month will see the sewer portion of its bill go up from the current $29.40 a month to $36.55, an increase of $7.06. Afterward, the yearly increases will be $6.98 in 2016, $3.75 in 2017, $4.61 in 2018 and $4.77 in 2019.

By July 2019, the sewer portion of the bill will be $56.66, an increase of $27.17 compared to the current charge.

The increases will pay for a portion of a $17 million upgrade to the MCSD Wastewater Treatment Plant at Hiller Park along with the increased operations and maintenance costs. The plant will be transformed from a pond system to a state-of-the-art mechanical treatment system. The purpose of the upgrade is to keep the district in compliance with ever-stricter state regulations. Failure to stay in compliance could result in thousands of dollars in fines for each day the district fails to meet discharge requirements.

The increase will also pay for infrastructure improvements to the rest of the sewer system.

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