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.