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Auburn’s regional sewer deal points get unfavorable feedback

Asking for no rate increase called unrealistic, ‘tricky’
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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The regional sewer project deal points Auburn City Council passed by a split vote Monday, and early feedback is confirming the prediction of those who voted against it: Asking for rates to not be affected in order to join the project is a sticking point.

The deal points are a set of 34 conditions that would need to be met for Auburn to enter the  regional project with the City of Lincoln and Placer County, both of which are expected to provide their responses within a month.

Auburn’s buy-in to the project would be $36.3 million, and for the city’s sewer rates to remain stable as the deal points demand, $18.16 million in outside funding would be required.

Lincoln City Councilman Spencer Short already has an idea of what his vote would be.

“No,” Short said when asked whether he would approve them as they stand.

“I’m glad that Auburn is finally taking a serious look at the issues involved here, but it still feels like a beginning point, because these are the same issues they could have raised back two years ago (when Lincoln made a regional offer), and they failed to do so,” he said. “So I’m waiting to see what the rest of my council would want to do.”

Talks of a regional sewer project have been ongoing for more than a decade, and although Auburn’s current plant is in compliance, some believe going regional would help mitigate costs to meet future standards.

Both the Lincoln City Council and the Placer County Board of Supervisors held their regular meetings on Tuesday, though the regional sewer deal points had not been on either agenda.

Supervisor Jack Duran said many of the points are in line with what the county desires, but it starts to get “tricky” in the financial areas.

“That’s where it gets difficult,” Duran said. “Asking the county for $18 million or whatever to cover the cost is going to be a bit tricky, because remember, whatever we do for the City of Auburn, we have to turn around and make sure there’s equity for the SMD1 customers (for sewer in North Auburn), and that one is not subsidizing the others.”

Duran offered Auburn at least $7 million toward the project from the county’s general fund at a Feb. 11 City Council meeting.

That leaves at least $11 million more in outside financing needed for the city to join the project, assuming the board of supervisors approves Duran’s offer.

Short doesn’t think it’s “truly realistic” to ask for that kind of funding.

“It’s great to want something,” he said. “It’s great to get a gift, but we all realize that we ultimately have to pay for the services that we provide and that our citizens would proceed to benefit from.”

Short also took issue with the stipulation that the governance would be a Joint Powers Agreement “with Auburn having a strong voice and veto powers over any major changes in the by-laws of leadership.”

“Really? Even Lincoln – who is the largest user of the plant ultimately – we’re not saying that we have a complete veto power either, so to say that is unfortunate for them,” he said.

Short also questioned whether a joint workshop between the three jurisdictions would be necessary.

“If these are their deal points they have acted on, then … we need to have a meeting with Lincoln council members, and maybe not the full body, because trying to organize 15 elected officials schedules is not the easiest thing,” he said.

The Auburn City Council unanimously approved the idea, saying it would help the parties to gain a common understanding of the issues, some of which may have been miscommunicated in the past.

“At this point in time I think we need all hands on deck,” Duran said. “We’re getting to a point of critical mass right now where we need to have those decisions made.”

 

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews