North Tahoe utility board OK’s rate, fee hikes | SierraSun.com

North Tahoe utility board OK’s rate, fee hikes

Julie Brown
Sierra Sun

North Tahoe homeowners from the Nevada state line to just east of Dollar Hill will see their sewer bills double and water bills increase by 50 percent in December.

The North Tahoe Public Utility District board of directors approved the increase Monday following two years of intermittent discussion over how to fund planned upgrades to the district’s water and sewer systems.

The utility rate increase follows a hike last month in water and sewer connection fees, which are charged when a customer plugs into the system. The board also instated a new water-capacity fee for those changing or increasing their property use beyond a single-family residential unit.

The water rate increase will generate an additional $1.1 million during the 2008-09 fiscal year, said Chief Financial Officer Larry Marple. Sewer rates are expected to generate an additional $710,000 the same year ” the first full fiscal year the rates will be in effect.

Directors last increased the district’s sewer rates in 1991, and last adjusted water rates in 1999.

“It’s never easy passing a rate increase, but I think that it’s needed and we’re doing the right things to see that the money is spent in the right places,” said board President Lane Lewis at Monday’s meeting.

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Residents will first see the spike in their monthly utility bill in December. Further increases to both sewer and water rates will come with a 4 percent adjustment in 2009 and another 4.5 percent increase in January 2010.

The directors approved the new rates without hesitation, and after making only a few comments.

“I think we’ve deferred enough, if you will,” Director Frank Mooney said. “I think we need to implement this now.”

Director Sue Daniels inquired about the district’s oversight of the funds.

Marple said he would identify and segregate the money into separate accounts that will fund either capital improvement projects, or federal- and state-mandated improvements.

The district’s financial officer further said he would give the board monthly reports on the ongoing, cumulative costs for each endeavor.

Director Jeff Lanini commended district staff for calculating the new rates and the projects the rates are intended to fund.

“I think the staff is taking the bull by the horns in coming up with a plan to make this decision safe,” Lanini said. “I think this is the responsible thing to do.”

At a public hearing held earlier this month, district residents said the rate hike was too extreme and suggested the board pursue other sources of funding.

“The comment was to try and defer the cost, or try and get other grant moneys to do it,” Lewis said in a phone interview Tuesday. “And believe me, we’re being as aggressive as we can to look at all sources.”

Without the rate hikes the district could not fund the projects in the five-year improvement plan authorized by the board.

Water projects slated for next year’s construction season include waterline replacements on Speckled and Cutthroat streets in Kings Beach, and on Kingswood and Stag streets in Tahoe Vista. Next year’s sewer projects will improve and synchronize pump stations, Lewis said.

“The easy way out is to just sit in our seat and defer the capital improvements,” Lewis said. “We’d be passing on that responsibility to future generations. We need to keep up with the infrastructure we have. And that’s why we need to implement the rate increase.”

The board has been aggressive in seeking out additional funding resources, Lewis said. In comparing their strategy with that of the neighboring public utility district in Tahoe City, Lewis said the North Tahoe district is “more aggressive in getting money than they were. … We just found out that we were just as resourceful as anybody.”