Redwood City sewer facility repairs could raise rates

Hefty sewer-rate increases could be in the pipeline for residents and businesses in cities whose wastewater flows to the South Bayside System Authority.

SBSA, which runs a plant shared by Redwood City, San Carlos, Menlo Park and Belmont, is planning an extensive retrofit of its 25-year-old facilities in Redwood City, according to Director Dan Child. Those plans — and cost — will not be finalized until late 2007.

In the meantime, SBSA is already performing $12 million in short-term repairs. Cities are paying off the cost over four years — Redwood City’s tab is $1.2 million per year, while Menlo Park’s is $834,000, San Carlos’ is $432,000 and Belmont’s is $330,000.

Redwood City sets its rates once per year based on SBSA’s financial needs. It had already set its 2006 rates by the time it learned about the additional $1.2 million charge, and the extra cost is more than the city’s sewer fund has in reserve.

Redwood City is hoping to pay off $2.5 million in money it owes SBSA by borrowing that amount from the city’s water fund. It would pay itself back by raising sewer fees from $33 to $35.66 for homes, if the new rates are approved by the City Council July 9, according to Marilyn Harang in the city’s Public Works Department.

While the water fund’s reserves — after the $2.5 million payment — will be $5.8 million, the sewer reserves are just $750,000, not nearly enough to cover costs if there’s a need for emergency sewer or stormwater system repairs, according to Finance Director Brian Ponty.

Redwood City’s residential and commercial sewer customers can expect similar 8 to 9 percent increases in rates over the next four years — higher than the 5 percent increases they’ve seen in recent years, Public Works Superintendent Manny Rosas said. However, those could go even higher as SBSA finalizes finances for its long-term retrofit, Harang said.

Similarly, Belmont recently increased sewer rates by 12 percent for residential customers from $5 per 100 cubic yards of sewer outflow to $5.60, according to its finance director, Thomas Fil.

In June 2006, San Carlos approved a phased three-year rate increase of 64 percent.

However, without the retrofit, SBSA runs the risk of violating water-quality regulations, said Child. “When they design wastewater plants, the life expectancy is about 20 years. We’re at 25 and limping along.”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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