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City Council Makes Sewer Rate Hikes, New Structure Official

In approving a plan to raise an average of $2.4 million a year to fix its aging sewer system, City Council also shifts to a "flow-based" system to charge people based on how much water they consume and thus discharge into the sewers.

Nearly 18 months after to overhaul its aging sewer system by raising rates, the city of Mill Valley sealed the deal last week.

The Mill Valley City Council approved sewer rate hikes over the next six years and shifted to what city officials 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.

No one other than city officials attended the meeting, which was held at 9 a.m. Thursday. As a result, Mayor Garry Lion quickly opened and closed the public hearing on the matter. 

"We tabulated the comments and the protests from the June 18 meeting and I think we had less than a dozen protests total," he said.

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, as well as additional rate hikes for the four years after that. 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.

Thrughout the process this year, city officials have e 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 raising rates 16, 13, 11, 8 and 9 percent each year, respectively, through 2016-2017. In addition to the rate hikes, the city is also seeking $4 million in debt financing to speed up its planned sewer system overhaul.

The new rates go into effect for the 2012-2013 property tax bills, which reach property owners in December.

Rico July 23, 2012 at 05:54 PM
I am a low water user, so I am not worried. But, just because a residence or building uses X amount of water, doesn't mean that all of that water is going into the sanitary sewer system. This may be a creative idea to raise taxes, but it may not be very accurate. Some people use water to irrigate their grounds, and that water does not run into the sanitary sewer system. To be totally fair, the city of M.V. should install flow meters on the sewer laterals coming out of each building, and also grease traps. The more times a grease trap gets clogged and sounds an alarm, the customer should pay more for cleaning the traps or jet rodding the sewers when they plug up down line. If people got fines for dumping grease into the sewer, they might change their ways.
Ed Callaert October 01, 2012 at 08:41 PM
When people with gardens get their tax increases, they will want to Storm the Bastille. This is a completely unfair, simplistic way to steal from the people again. NOTHING from garden irrigation goes through the sewer line. Nothing. Actually returning water to the earth is a pretty good thing. Its just another tax gouge from the city and done without a full hearing no less! Guess those "dozen or so" people don't count. Was this done at midnight when everyone wanted to go home? Just ramrod it through when no one is paying attention. The Mill Valley City council should be ashamed of itself.
Jennifer Billingsley October 01, 2012 at 09:35 PM
As a professional gardener, I have already been penalized by the MMWD with outrageously high water bills. To add insult to injury, I am further penalized by the new property tax sewer charge....from $600 to $2600 which was passed by the M.V. City Council at a morning meeting with NO public attendance. No public voted. Many protested. I agree with Ricardo Charducci that "M.V. should install flow meters on the sewer laterals coming out of each building". The irony of this situation is that the city of Mill Valley never held to their contract with me and four of my neighbors to reimburse us for our construction of a new lateral sewer line on Rose Avenue. Jennifer Billingsley

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