New­port Beach sewer fee may rise

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Hannah Fry hannah.fry@la­times.com

The drought is driv­ing down wa­ter use in New­port Beach.

But a con­se­quence of re­duced use is a decline in rev­enue that would help fund nec­es­sary im­prove­ments to the mu­nic­i­pal wa­ter sys­tem, such as re­plac­ing aging pipe­lines and sewer sta­tions.

Ratep ay­ers may be asked to help close the gap.

City staff pre­sented a pro­posal to nearly dou­ble waste­water rates for cus­tomers over the next five years dur­ing a study ses­sion last week. If ap­proved, it would be the first rate in­crease in nearly a decade.

Homes and busi­nesses that use wa­ter in New­port Beach are charged in their regular bills for waste­water re­moval and treat­ment, which in­cludes sewage and wa­ter from sinks and showers, known as “gray wa­ter.” New­port Beach has been iden­ti­fied as one of the heav­i­est per-capita wa­ter us­ing cities in the state.

Be­cause cus­tomers are us­ing less wa­ter to com­ply with stan­dards set by the State Wa­ter Re­sources Con­trol Board, which re­cently man­dated that New­port re­duce use by 28%, they are also us­ing less waste wa­ter.

Re­duced use means lower bills for ratepay­ers but a decline in rev­enue for the city. And those de­clines are ex­pected to af­fect the city’s waste­water en­ter­prise fund, which fi­nances var­i­ous im­prove­ments to the city’s wa­ter sys­tem, over the next sev­eral years.

In 2013, the city con­tracted with HF&H, an Irvine con­sult­ing firm, to study waste­water and re­cy­cled wa­ter rates. Based on the firm’s find­ings, the City Coun­cil de­cided in June 2014 to halve the cost of re­cy­cled wa­ter to ratepay­ers.

How­ever, the study in­di­cated that the city needs to bulk up its waste­water fund if it wants to pay for nec­es­sary im­prove­ments to an aging sys­tem.

The projects are ex­pected to cost roughly $30 mil­lion over the next 30 years.

The city is con­tribut­ing half a mil­lion dol­lars each year to the im­prove­ments, said Ge­orge Mur­doch, the city’s util­i­ties gen­eral manager.

HF&H pro­jected that the city will have to dip into re­serve money to fund the projects, which are ex­pected to de­plete $900,000 that the city has in waste­water re­serves by 2017.

“You can see where we’re a lit­tle bit short,” Mur­doch said. “We’ve had an ag­gres­sive pro­gram, butwe need to step it up a bit.”

If the coun­cil even­tu­ally ap­proves the rate hike, it would be the first in­crease seen by ratepay­ers in nine years, he said.

A typ­i­cal sin­gle-fam­ily home pays about $9.75 a month for waste­water. The pro­posal to in­crease the rate struc­ture would mean that the same home would pay $13.79 a month by the first year, $16.27 by the third year and $18.04 by the fifth.

Waste­water rates for homes and busi­nesses are com­posed of a fixed fee, a sewer charge and two ad­di­tional sur­charges of $2 a month for each ad­di­tional house on the prop­erty and $10 a month for cus­tomers with larger wa­ter me­ters.

The pro­posal would elim­i­nate the sur­charges and move the cost to a monthly fixed price for sewer ser­vice based on the size of the wa­ter con­nec­tion and sewer use charge, which is a monthly fee for all cus­tomers based on­wa­ter use.

Coun­cil­men Scott Peot­ter and Kevin Mul­doon asked city staff to look into the pos­si­bil­ity of cut­ting costs by out­sourc­ing por­tions of the city’s waste wa­ter ser­vice. Thir­teen em­ploy­ees cur­rently man­age the city’s waste­water.

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