STPUD wants fair water billing
It’s something we’ve all heard: “How come I have to pay for this extra toilet and the lady next door doesn’t – and she’s got more kids?”
OK, so most people probably have never heard that, but the decision-makers at the South Tahoe Public Utility District hear it often.
STPUD is trying to address possible inequalities in its sewer billing system. The district is looking to raise its rates by an average of 3.5 percent, effective in July. That likely won’t be an across-the-board increase. Based on a comprehensive sewer rate study started last year, the board of directors, STPUD staff and a hired consultant are working to answer a few questions before then.
How much more should businesses with outdoor seating pay? Should residents’ water usage be used to determine their sewer rates? Should people with four toilets pay more than people with one?
“All we really wanted to do is take a snapshot, a picture in time, of whether our rate structure is fair,” said Duane Wallace, STPUD board member. “We just wanted to be gutsy and ask ourselves are we being fair to our rate-payers across the board?”
Preliminary results of the study were available about a month ago, and a public workshop was held earlier this week. Board members, however, are still gaging public opinion, and it’s too soon to tell what direction they may go.
What are some possible changes?
Right now STPUD bills by the sewer unit.
For residential designations, a volumetric approach may be taken. That would allow the rates for residents who are also hooked into STPUD’s water system to be billed based on water consumption. The idea is that what comes out of the tap ends up in the sewer. Unfortunately, the approach gets complicated because only about three-fourths of STPUD’s sewer customers are also water customers.
Businesses with outdoor seating may end up with a decrease – or at least a smaller increase than other designations.
“Some people just come to sit outside, because it’s a beautiful day. Does it add to their business or are people just sitting outside?” said Mary Lou Mosbacher, STPUD board member. “If it’s increasing their business and it’s more waste for us, it’s fair to bill them more. I don’t want to be unfair, but I don’t want them to take advantage of our residents.”
And then there is probably the hottest topic – toilets.
Each additional toilet currently is considered an additional sewer unit. But just because a homeowner has four toilets doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is generating twice the waste as someone with two toilets.
“I’ve always wanted us to stop counting toilets,” Mosbacher said. “It just seems like a waste … I hear people asking for a flat rate. I can go for a flat rate up to four toilets. After four, I figure you’ve got a ski lodge with 20 people in it.”
Whatever happens will be finalized with the district’s budget, a hearing for which is scheduled May 6.
“People have to tell the board what they think is fair,” said Dawn Forsythe, STPUD information officer. “The whole purpose of the sewer study was to try to address public concerns for fairness.”
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