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Seniors vent on higher sewer fees

By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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Supervisor Jim Holmes got an earful Tuesday from seniors living at a North Auburn mobile home park concerned over how they’d be able to afford sewer-rate increases now being considered by Placer County. A series of speakers during a question-and-answer session at the Woodside Mobile Home Park clubhouse on Luther Road zeroed in on two options the county has identified to bring the North Auburn Sewer Maintenance District up to state and federal standards. Both options would raise monthly fees dramatically. Holmes was questioned about fees that would rise from the current $67.84 a month per single-family dwelling. Estimates anticipate an increase to $118 a month by 2010 for upgrades to the current plant or $150 a month for the regional pipeline. Under the regional plan, North Auburn’s sewage would flow by pipeline to Lincoln’s newly constructed wastewater treatment plant. With cost-sharing from the Woodside park’s owners, residents of the senior-only facility said they were currently paying $42.49 a month for sewer and the higher rates would impose a heavy financial burden on them. Woodside resident Trish Cramer said she estimated the impact on each homeowner would be about $60 a month. “It’s a huge increase and it’s going to hurt a lot of people,” Cramer said. Suggestions from speakers at the session included trying to tap into federal economic stimulus funds to pay for the project and issuing a bond to pay for it and bring down costs. Holmes faced a group of about 70 residents whose questions were more pointed than hostile. He said that he’ll be traveling to Washington, D.C. in the spring to make the stimulus funding request to U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, as well as to newly elected District 4 Congressman Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay. Holmes, who is himself a North Auburn sewer ratepayer, said he’d check with county finance experts about the possibility of a bond issue to perhaps lower the cost of project financing. But he added that he thought it may have already been considered and rejected. The cost for the Lincoln tie-in is estimated at $133 million if Auburn participates and $8 million more if the city doesn’t. The cost for the upgrade to the plant is an estimated $88.5 million. As well as North Auburn, the sewer district takes in the Winchester subdivision, the area along Dry Creek Road, and part of Bowman. That area includes 5,250 homes and 2,550 commercial connections. The district’s Joeger Road plant was built in 1961 and upgraded in 1991 and 2000. Holmes said that if federal stimulus funds are available, they would be for the Lincoln connection – which previously received federal funding for design work and was in line for $18 million in federal grants while former U.S. Rep. John Doolittle represented the 4th District. Ann Whitley told Holmes that a flood of public concern over $325 septic-system inspection fees had apparently resulted in the state deciding to back off from that proposal. “They raised a big stink and everyone backed off,” Whitley said. With a dropping stock market and a state budget that could increase gas taxes, double license fees and raise other taxes, Whitley said she’s hoping Holmes will listen to seniors facing higher costs and lower incomes and understand how they feel. Holmes said supervisors are moving toward a decision regarding further design work on sewer system improvements later this year. He also told the group that 75 percent of people in a phone poll last December preferred the local-improvement option over the regional tie-in. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.