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City Looks to Close the Deal on Sewer Rate Shift and Hike

City Council begins the final stages of approving a shift to flow-based sewer rates Monday night, as well as an additional rate hike and the use of bond financing.

In February 2011, the city of Mill Valley to pay for a much-needed overhaul of its aging sewer system by raising rates.

At the Mill Valley City Council's meeting Monday night, city officials look to take the next step by raising rates again and shifting to a what they say is a more equitable "flow-based" system by which residents and business are charged based on how much water they consume and thus discharge into the sewers.

The move towards a flow-based rate kicked off in June 2011, when the City Council  from $297, which was among the lowest charges in Marin, to $600, a 102 percent spike. City officials cited rising costs from the (SASM), the joint powers agency that collects and treats wastewater for approximately 28,000 residents in Mill Valley and five neighboring sanitary districts, as well as more stringent state regulations and an Environmental Protection Agency order issued in the wake of SASM’s massive 2008 spill of more than 3 million gallons of wastewater. The spills resulted in a $1.6 million fine.

The lion’s share of the rate hike goes towards an overhaul of a large chunk of the city’s 59 miles of sewer pipes, much of which dates back some 50 years. An EPA-mandated video survey of 12.6 miles of the system found it laden with a variety of defects, including cracks, holes, blockages and tree root intrusion.

After the council approved that rate hike, which also called for a 13 percent increase in 2012-2013 and a 1 percent rise in 2014-2015, it directed staff to explore moving towards charging people based on how much water they consume, hopefully, ensuring that the heaviest water users paid more than those who conserved.

Based on shift to a flow-based model, the highest residential water users in Mill Valley would see their rates rise from $677 in 2012-2013 to an estimated $1,283, an 89 percent increase. The lowest users – those whose water consumption is half of the median – would see their rates drop to $328, a nearly 51 percent reduction. The average users would see a slight reduction from the current $677 to $641.

The city has carefully rolled out the shift through a series of public hearings and community meetings, emphasizing its need to raise an average of $2.4 million a year of additional revenue to fix its aging sewer system.

In addition to the rate structure shift, the city is also proposing to raise rates 16, 13, 11, 8 and 9 percent each year, respectively, through 2016-2017. In addition to the rate hikes, the city is also planning to seek $4 million in debt financing to speed up its planned sewer system overhaul.

The 411: The Mill Valley City Council meets Monday night at 7:30 p.m. in the council chambers at , 26 Corte Madera Avenue. Click here to watch the meeting online.

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