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City weighs options on needed sewer upgrades

By: Jenna Nielsen Journal Staff Writer
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City of Auburn officials are exploring an alternative option on how to meet state wastewater discharge requirements by 2010. Jack Warren, city public works director, told Auburn City Council members Monday night about the possibility of making on-site wastewater treatment plant upgrades, but also sending secondary affluents to a regional sewer plant in Lincoln — which would ultimately be slightly cheaper for ratepayers rather than investing completely in the regional pipeline. Auburn City Councilmembers voted Monday night to delay an ultimate decision until May 28. Councilmembers also voted 4-1 to allocate $7,000 from the city’s enterprise fund for its fair share of a $50,000 consultant study with Placer County and Lincoln that would evaluate possible rates if the city chose the option. “Rough estimates suggest that monthly sewer rates per equivalent dwelling unit would be approximately $90 to $95,” Warren said. “But those must be verified by the consultant study.” Councilman Kevin Hanley voted no. He questioned the feasibility of getting a study done before the city was required to send a letter to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board by June 1, informing them whether the city would make upgrades to its existing wastewater treatment plant in Auburn or connect to the regional pipeline. “There is no way of knowing if we could get the study done before we had to send that letter,” Hanley said. “And if you are not willing to increase rates, then why would we spend that $7,000?” Monthly sewer rates would need to be increased anywhere from $100 to $125 per dwelling unit to fully fund the regional option. But the monthly rates are based on both the city of Auburn and Placer County pursuing the regional project. If Placer County decides not to pursue the project, then monthly sewer rates would have to be increased by 25 percent or more, officials estimate. City sewer fees were increased last June from $35 per dwelling unit to $52.50 to compensate for on-site improvements. City staff estimates connecting to a regional pipeline could cost the city anywhere from $70 million to $83 million, and making improvements to the existing wastewater treatment plant would cost roughly $12 million. “If we could take the money out of it, the regional option would be a no-brainer,” said Mayor Keith Nesbitt. “But we can’t take the money out of it and this is breaking the backs of our taxpayers.” Councilman Bob Snyder urged fellow members to be patient when coming to a decision on how to meet the state’s requirements. “We have to make a decision but we don’t have to make it here tonight,” Snyder said. “I think we need to be patient over the next 30 days. There is no downside to not making a decision.” Snyder also urged councilmembers to think long term. “Whatever (regulations) come down the line from the state, they would be easier to deal with on a broad-based (solution) than locally,” he said. “You’ll never get a cheaper price than you will today. Lincoln will never be motivated to the extent they are today.” The city has until March 1, 2010 to reach compliance by making on-site improvements and until Jan. 1, 2013 if it decides to connect to the regional pipeline. Warren said two construction seasons would be needed to complete on-site upgrades at the local plant. And to stay on schedule with the regional option, the city would need to have a concrete rate increase and construction plan and vote by the City Council this spring. In other business Monday night, councilmembers: n Declared April DMV/Donate Life California Month, declared May Museum Month and Bike Month in Auburn, and declared May 4 through May 10 Municipal Clerks Week. n Unanimously approved the creation of an underground utility district to facilitate the first phase of the city’s Streetscape project. The utility district will replace all the existing aerial cables and poles along Kenmass Avenue, Lincoln Way, High Street and Highway 49. The project is eligible for the use of Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s Rule 20A funds, which the company allocates to replace overhead electrical facilities with underground facilities. Currently the city has $814,414 available in Rule 20A funds. The Journal’s Jenna Nielsen can be reached at jennan@goldcountrymedia.com or comment on this story at auburnjournal.com.