Utility rates going up in July | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Utility rates going up in July

by Andy Bourelle

South Shore residents likely will be paying an average of about $5.36 more per quarter year starting in July for their utility service.

The area’s primary utility provider plans to increase both its sewer and water rates by 3.5 percent, a move that officials have been anticipating since last year.

In fact, because of the South Tahoe Public Utility District’s ongoing battle with MTBE and a recent misunderstanding with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, utility officials had to work hard to keep the increase to the expected 3.5 percent.

“Believe me, we’ve done everything we can to keep (rates) where they are,” said Rhonda McFarlane, chief financial officer for the district.

Starting in 1994, STPUD planned to raise rates on a regular basis over the next five years. The district has, too, but not to the extent that it had planned.

Last year officials expected the need to raise rates 3.5 percent for both sewer and water service this year. However, that was before the fuel additive MTBE continued to create problems for the district, and STPUD and EPA were in disagreement over funding of the district’s recycled-water export pipeline.

STPUD has closed more than one-third of its wells because of MTBE, and, to date, MTBE-related problems have cost the district about $1.5 million. Plans for the upcoming year include building new water wells, tanks and lines.

On the sewer side of the district’s budget, STPUD ran into unanticipated problems in paying for its 26-mile export pipeline, which it has been working on for the past few years. It carries 1.7 billion gallons of recycled water 26 miles to Alpine County each year, where the water irrigates more than 2,000 acres of ranch land.

About $7.15 million was appropriated by Congress in 1997 to go to STPUD to help for the construction of the new pipeline. However, EPA and the district could not agree on a payment plan. That disagreement has since been worked out, but not before STPUD canceled its 1999 construction plans.

Congress appropriated another $2.5 million for the project in 1998, which is reflected in the district’s budget proposal.

Because of inequalities in sewer rates, the district recently had a consultant complete a comprehensive study of the rate structure. Based on that, officials are not planning to make the 3.5-percent increase in sewer rates across the board: single- and multi-family residences will increase 3.5 percent; commercial and restaurant designations, 5 percent; motel/hotel, 2.5 percent; and mobile home parks, 2.2 percent.

The district plans to do that in an effort to move rates toward a fair structure.

A public workshop is planned for Thursday evening to give utility customers an opportunity to comment on the proposed fiscal year 1999/2000 budget.

“It’s a legal requirement, but we’re also stewards of public money,” McFarlane said. “We want to be forthright with the public and let them know where the money is going.”

What: STPUD budget meeting

When: Thursday, 7 p.m.

Where: City Council Chambers, 1900 Lake Tahoe Blvd.

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