City looks to test waters before sewer upgrade fee vote

As the city considers putting a sewer fee increase before voters, officials may hire a consulting group to test the waters for residents’ feelings about the hike.

City officials are proposing to put a new fee on a special mail-in ballot in 2009. The increase would help to fund the $39 million overhaul of the 70-year-old system, which has caused flooding on city streets.

In 2006, a bond measure that would pay for fixing the system received 64 percent of the vote — less than the two-thirds required to pass.

“You can call us crazy for trying again, but we decided we really can’t wait anymore because this is critical to the safety and welfare of our community,” Councilmember Terry Nagel said.

The measure would need a majority vote to pass, but it will be voted on only by Burlingame’s fewer than 10,000 property owners, not all residents.

On Monday, the City Council will vote on hiring a consultant group that will poll about 400 residents about their opinion on the new fee. The group would also conduct a study on how much water goes into the system from different parcels, which will serve to determine the fee.

The overhaul project, which may take several decades, would upgrade the storm-drain system to handle higher-intensity storms by increasing the overall capacity, according to Assistant Director of Public Works Art Morimoto.

“They’ve been working on it for years,” said Burlingame native Bill Fairweather, who lives near the intersection of Mills and Capuchino avenues. “If they are actually going to fix it, I wouldn’t mind paying for it, but it’s been flooding my whole life and they haven’t fixed it.”

The city is also upgrading its sewer system, which recently became the target of a lawsuit the environmental group Baykeeper, which alleges that the city had 198 sewage spills since 2002.

Nagel said she would not be surprised to see opposition to the new fee because no one likes additional taxes.

“While cities are scrambling to provide minimal services, we also recognize that people are feeling pinched by the economy,” she said. “It’s tough — these are hard times for people.”

svasilyuk@examiner.com

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