Sewer Rate Adjustments Approved

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Newport Beach residents who have the city as their wastewater service provider will likely soon see an increase in their bills, following a decision this week.

Newport Beach City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday in support of sewer rate adjustments. Mayor Kevin Muldoon dissented.

The change will go into effect if the council approves the second reading on Sept. 26.

A sewer rate study by HF&H Consultants, LLC, recently recommended a rate increase to “ensure adequate funds are available to continue to maintain a safe and healthy sewer infrastructure.”

The rates have not increased since 2006. The city was operating at a deficit in the sewer fund since 2010 until the previous council approved a $3.5 million contribution from the general fund in 2016.

Councilman Scott Peotter called the rate adjustments “adequate” and they will cover the costs, but it’s not what he would have preferred.

“Our previous council kicked the can down the road for over 10 years,” Peotter said.

The road is now at a dead end, Councilwoman Diane Dixon added, and they have to act now. If a pipe were to break, it would be raw sewage getting dumped into the harbor, she clarified.

“It’s not a pretty sight,” Dixon said. “That’s the reality.”

This is a modest increase for an important maintenance service, she added.

“This is something that needs to be done,” Peotter agreed. “It’s an overdue task.”

It’s about responsibility and fiscal preparedness, Councilman Will O’Neill said. It’s  a hard vote to have to make, but it needed to be done.

“Frankly that’s what we’re doing up here right now,” he said, “it’s just not fun.”

The updated sewer rate study looks at a ten-year financial projection and proposes a five-year incremental rate increase.

“Multi-year increases reduce the rate shock of implementing a one-year adjustment,” staff concluded in their report.

Currently the city’s sewer rates include a fixed fee, a sewer use charge, and two additional surcharges. The new rate structure eliminates the two surcharges, and adds the costs to the monthly fixed charge.

For a single family residence with a 5/8, 3/4, or 1-inch meter, the change in their monthly bill will be between $2.06 and $2.74, depending on the household’s flow rate.

According to the staff report, an average single family home with a one-inch meter using about 12 hundred cubic feet per month (an average flow rate for this type of household), will see an increase of $2.35 per month.

Longtime resident Nancy Skinner supported the item and spoke out of a “passion for clean water in our bay,” which is directly related to the sewer infrastructure.

She asked the council to support the item as it helps prevent potential spills through maintenance.

“It’s extremely important for our city,” she said.

Staff did a great job in packaging the adjustment in way that is fair to everybody, Skinner said.

City watchdog Jim Mosher agreed with Skinner.

“This increase is very much needed and overdue,” he added.

There is no perfect rate system, he said, but the item presented a better method than what was previously in place.

The city received 13 written protests in opposition and one in support.

Councilman Brad Avery called safety and protection of the environment two of the council’s “fundamental responsibilities,” and sewer maintenance falls under both those categories. It’s a critical service for residents, he added.

“It’s not glorious and no one really sees it,” Avery said, “but if there’s a problem, we really hear about it and nobody‘s happy, and the environment can be compromised.”


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