Fountain Valley, your toilet just got a little more expensive.
Despite opposition from a number of residents, Orange County Sanitation District Board of Directors approved a sewer rate hike for northwest and central Orange County to be phased in over the next several years.
The board voted 18-7 to increase sewer service charges by 4.8 percent this year and 2.4 percent each of the next four years. On July 1, the annual fee for the average single family home will become $14 in 2013 and about $8 each of the next four years. The 2013 fee of $294 will be $339 by 2017-18.
To see a chart of the new fees, scroll to the end of the story.
The District handles the waste of about 2.5 million in Orange County, and the fee change will affect its coverage area which also includes Rossmoor, Fountain Valley and Newport Beach.
The board whittled down expenses as low as they could get them while still serving the needs of the community, said John Withers, a sanitation board director and a director on the Irvine Ranch Water District.
“I think we’re walking the fine line here of 'What’s the right balance?” said Withers who voted “Yes” on the increase. “In my judgment, I think we’re about where we should be, and I am in support of the staff recommendation.”
Seven of the 25 directors opposed the rate change.
Fountain Valley Mayor Mark McCurdy, who voted no, said he would have preferred the board take more time to investigate the numbers.
“There’s a lot of questions and definitely in these tough economy times, we’re placed there to do this right,” McCurdy said. “We’re stewards of the public’s money.”
Supporters argue the rate increase would help raise about $150 million over the next five years, an amount needed for construction projects and ongoing maintenance costs, as well as to avoid cuts in services. Opponents argue the hike is yet another unnecessary burden on the rate-payers that would hurt the poorest residents the most.
After the district mailed out 537,000 letters notifying customers about the vote, more than 250 people sent in emails of opposition to the rate change and three sent in emails in support, according to the district clerk. Staff also received 88 letters opposing the fee.
Before the decision, sixteen people spoke on the item during the public hearing and most spoke in opposition.
Santa Ana resident Peter Katz said elderly residents already have a number of expenses that are difficult to deal with on a fixed income and a rate hike would increase their burden.
“All these things add up for seniors and there’re the ones that are going to be hurt and affected the most,” Katz said.
Katz said other larger California counties provide similar services at cheaper rates.
“Los Angeles County only charges $149 and there many more cities in L.A. county, and they do the same jobs," Katz said.
In contrast, Costa Mesa resident Dean Reinemann said district staff and the board had done their research and the research supported the rate hike.
“You start looking here (and saying) ‘Could we cut here? Could we raise that? Could we change something?” Reinemann said. “To me, it looks like you thought of all those things.”
Reinemann added, “Myself, I can’t think of anything but raising the fee. It’s painful but we’re looking at one of the three essential public services.”
Dean said the other essentials were water and electricity.
The Board last adopted a five-year rate plan in 2008 voting for a 10 percent hike each year.
Sewer service rates are the main source of district income. Staff first proposed the plan December 2012, and, according to staff, the proposed rate schedule is based on projected inflationary costs.
According to the staff report, the district will use $105 million of its reserves during the next five years to help offset costs of the $1.6 billion plan for upkeep of district facilities and new construction projects.
Clarification: The rate change affects all rate-payers in northwest and central Orange County. An earlier version of this story did not make that clear.
The New Fee Schedule
Single Family Residential
Multiple Family residential