Mad River Union
McKINLEYVILLE – Over the next five years, sewer rates in McKinleyville may nearly double to pay for the construction and operation of a new wastewater treatment plant.
The rates, if approved at the final public hearing on June 3, would increase the average single-family household’s bill by about 92 percent over five years.
The first increase would start July 1. A single family residence using 800 cubic feet of water a month would 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 would 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 would be $56.66, an increase of $27.17 compared to current charge.
The rate hikes would pay for a $17 million upgrade at the Wastewater Treatment Plant at Hiller Park, along with the increased costs of operating the facility. The additional revenues would also pay for other sewer infrastructure improvements and would maintain healthy reserve funds, which is a requirement of the low-interest loan obtained by the MCSD to finance the project.
In raising the rates, the district has to follow the requirements of Prop. 218, which allows ratepayers to protest the increase and halt it if they can muster enough opposition. The MCSD would need to receive written protests from people representing more than 50 percent of the affected parcels in town.
The final protest hearing will be held on Wednesday, June 3 at 7 p.m. at Azalea Hall, 1620 Pickett Rd., McKinleyville. This will be the last opportunity to submit protests before the board takes its final vote in the rate hike.
Long-time McKinleyville resident Bette Wilkinson, who said she was representing seniors, told the board that the rate increase will be difficult for people on fixed incomes. She asked that the board do something to limit the impact on seniors.
“McKinleyville does not take responsibility for its seniors,” Wilkinson said.
MCSD Director Dennis Mayo responded “I don’t just feel your pain, I share it.”
The district, however, cannot legally give seniors or other groups special discounts on sewer or water services. All customers must pay their proportional amount for the service.
Reasons for the rate increase
The MCSD is pursuing the sewer upgrade in order to meet increasingly stringent state discharge standards. The district’s Wastewater Treatment Plant has struggled to meet the standards over the years. If the district were to repeatedly fail to meet the standards and was not seeking a remedy, it could face state fines of $3,000 per day for each violation.
MCSD Manager Greg Orsini said the new mechanical sewage treatment plant will bring the district into compliance and allow the town to meet future requirements.
The rate increase will help pay for the $17 million project, which is being financed with a low-interest 2 percent loan. A condition of that loan requires that the MCSD maintain reserve funds equal to the annual loan payment of $759,000. The increased sewer revenues would help maintain this reserve.
The new plant will also increase operating costs. According to Orsini, the existing pond system requires the equivalent of half a staff person per day. The new plant will require 1.5 staff members a day to operate. There are also significant increases in power costs. Total additional operating expenses are expected to increase by $455,000 a year.
Construction of the new plant is expected to begin this summer.