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Higher Sewer Charges In Works
June 2, 1998



Tuesday, June 2, 1998
Section: news
Page: A03
Shawn Masten

RICHMOND Homeowners will soon be asked to help pay for a much-needed overhaul of the city's aging waste-water treatment system.

It will cost about $50 million to replace sewer lines and catch basins, install new pump stations and manhole covers and rebuild the water pollution control plant on Canal Boulevard, said Henry Tingle, the city's deputy city manager of community and cultural services.

The question of how the city will pay for the work will be answered by the City Council in the next two weeks, but there's little doubt that residents will have to pitch in.

"There's going to have to be a substantial rate increase," Councilman Tom Butt said. "This work has to be done."

Financing options
The council is considering several financing options. One is to finance the work with both $20 million in revenue bonds and a 15 percent increase in annual sewer service charges for each of the next five years that would generate $30 million.

A public hearing on the proposed rate increase has been scheduled for the June 9 council meeting.

If the council improves the increase, starting July 1, homeowners would pay a monthly sewer charge of $16 for a single-family residence, up from $13.83 a month. The rate would be $28 by 2003.

And Richmond would go from being one of the cheapest sewer-service providers in the East Bay to one of the most expensive.

The city-run facility serves about 34,000 customers. The city collects an estimated $5.7 million annually in sewer charges, which mostly pays for the salaries of sewer employees.

The Stege Sanitary District, which serves about 40,000 customers in the city of El Cerrito, unincorporated Kensington and the Richmond Annex, charges residents about $16.70 a month. and the West County Wastewater District, which oversees sewage collection and treatment in El Sobrante Valley, San Pablo, North Richmond and parts of Pinole, charges $8.83 a month.

Reasoning behind rates
Some of the highest rates are charged by public agencies whose systems are in need of repair.

In Benicia, residents pay about $21 a month for sewer service. The difference there is voters in November passed a $30 million bond measure to finance repairs to that city's ailing treatment plant. Benicia's effort came after raw sewage overflowed from sewer lines and the plant failed during heavy storms in 1997, Benicia City Manager Otto Giuliani said.

Richmond needs to upgrade its system in order to avoid similar problems in the future, Tingle said. Odor complaints are the worst that's happened so far, he said.

A report on the rate increase and the planned improvements was presented to the council late last month after a five-month, $150,000 study.

The increase is the first proposed in Richmond since 1992-93, when the city raised monthly rates from $12.50 to pay for an $8 million upgrade done in 1993 through 1995.

Richmond's treatment plant treats about 6 1/2 million gallons of wastewater a day and as much as 50 million gallons per day during the rainy season, Tingle said.

Much of the machinery and piping is 30 to 40 years old, he said. The plant needs about $23 million worth of work, and the remainder would be spent on sewer pipes. Under the proposed financing plan, the work would take about 10 years, but council members and city officials are reworking the financing to do the work sooner, Councilman Butt said.

"This should have been done five or 10 years ago," Butt said. "We're up against the wall now."