Council raises sewer rates, discusses regional plan

Central Square statue to represent Nisenan Indians
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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City of Auburn sewer rate payers can expect a higher bill with the new fiscal year. The Auburn City Council voted 3-1 Monday night to increase rates by $2 a month. Some council members also discussed that they don’t think a regional sewer line is ever going to happen. Councilman Kevin Hanley voted against the increase and Councilwoman Bridget Powers was absent. The council’s decision boosts the yearly sewer charge from $675 to $699. The regional sewer concept is one that has been in talks between the city and Placer County for more than a decade with no decisions made. According to Bernie Schroeder, director of Auburn’s Department of Public Works, in 2007 the City Council approved a sewer rate increase schedule. The schedule called for an increase from $56.25 a month to $58.25 a month in fiscal year 2010/2011. However, last May the council decided to hold rates at $56.25. Schroeder gave a presentation about what the rate structure supports including the 2010 wastewater treatment plant upgrade, annual operating costs and ongoing and future compliance projects. Schroeder said because the council did not increase the rate last year, staff calculated a $162,000 reduction in revenues. Schroeder said one of the biggest sewer projects that will need to be funded over the next five years is the oxidation ditch at the treatment plant. Schroeder said the ditch is much older than other components of the plant and oxidizes more than 1.5 million gallons of influent. Andy Heath, director of administrative services for the city of Auburn, said $1.2 million is needed per year to cover capital sewer costs. City staff recommended the council follow the rate schedule set up in 2007 and move rates up to $60.50 per month for next fiscal year to help aid in funding capital projects and keeping sewer funds healthy. Rates would not need to increase from that amount for another five to 10 years, Schroeder said. Hanley said he was for raising the rate to $58.25 if the council could also give direction to staff on using two of its reserves for future sewer projects. The two reserves Hanley mentioned are the UV disinfection reserve, currently set aside for any potential future regionalization project, and the reserve for the regional sewer project study. The two reserves total about $2.25 million, according to city staff. Hanley said Placer County has been discussing the regional plant for 14 years. Most were spent in the “fantasy” of thinking the federal government would fund the project. Hanley said the city of Lincoln has lower sewer rates than Auburn and would never agree to subsidize Auburn’s higher rates. “The second fantasy unfortunately is the city of Lincoln represents their constituents well, but their proposal for Placer County can’t work for the city of Auburn,” Hanley said. Hanley said he didn’t think the project was feasible. “I guess my point is that we have been holding this reserve for regionalization for two years now and I’m not going to vote for a rate increase if we continue to hold a reserve for a project that in my opinion is not going to happen,” he said. Councilman Keith Nesbitt said he also didn’t think it was likely that the regional project would work out, but he wanted to see what happened. Councilman Mike Holmes said he agreed, but wanted to keep the $2.25 million set aside. Mayor Bill Kirby said he thought the money would be good to retain anyway, in case some sort of unexpected emergency should hit the city. City Manager Bob Richardson told the council funding discussions for the oxidation ditch would come up in about 18 months. The council decided not to advise staff on how to use the regional reserves, and Councilman Hanley voted against the increase. In other business City Council: • Approved a life-sized statue of a Nisenan Native American for one of the pedestals in Central Square. The United Auburn Indian Community is paying for the statue and artist Douglas Van Howd is crafting it. Reach Bridget Jones at