STPUD approves water, sewer rate increases |

STPUD approves water, sewer rate increases

Griffin Rogers

The South Tahoe Public Utility District board voted unanimously Thursday to raise the quarterly utility bills of all 13,900 water customers and 17,800 sewer customers starting July 5.

The vote green-lights five years of 6 percent annual increases to sewer rates and four years of 6.5 percent annual increases to water rates, with another 5 percent increase to water rates in year five.

Rate increases for the first year, fiscal 2014-15, will take effect in about a month. However, the board will need to confirm water and sewer rates in advance of each of the ensuing four years without exceeding the amounts approved Thursday.

If the district does propose a larger rate increase in that five-year span, it will have to release more Proposition 218 notices by mail to give customers a chance to protest them.

Before the board voted on the latest rate increases, 305 water customers and 342 sewer customers had turned in protests to the district. The district needed to receive protests from 50 percent plus one of its customers to thwart the proposed rate hikes.

Board Director Randy Vogelgesang said Thursday he made his decision with ratepayers in mind.

“The board is the ratepayer’s representative at the table in all of this,” he said, “and it is our duty to carry out wishes of the ratepayers to the extent that we can and still have a functioning district.”

Rate adjustments are needed to fund the district’s operating and capital needs — including $59 million in sewer upgrades and $70 million in water system upgrades — over the next 10 years or so, according to STPUD.

Board President Eric Schafer said the five-year rate increase would help toward those needs, but it may not be enough.

“I’m concerned about the effect of this rate on the future,” he said. “If it isn’t enough, you have to understand that, at some point, it’s going to have to be enough.”

Schafer had supported an earlier district staff proposal of water rate increases of 9 percent and 9.5 percent over four years and 5.5 percent in year five. However, that proposal was scaled back on a 3-2 vote, with opposing members saying the rate hike was too much.

As for the smaller proposal approved Thursday, part of those water increases are needed to obtain and repay a 20-year, zero-interest loan from the state of California.

The loan would allow the district to finish installing mandatory water meters on about 8,000 homes currently without them. That work is expected to take five years to complete at a cost of about $21.5 million.

Other projects proposed in the district include replacing parts at the Luther Pass pump station, installing a new backup generator at the treatment plant and upgrading electrical controls and sewage lift station in the Fallen Leaf Lake area.

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