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Public hearing discusses wastewater treatment rate increases

Treatment rate increase protest ballots to go out in April

Property owners within the Quincy and East Quincy services districts can expect to receive an opportunity to protest rate increases next month.

Self-addressed envelopes and a ballot will be mailed April 18 to all property owners receiving services from either district. This is a protest ballot. It does not allow residents to vote yes or no.

To successfully protest the proposed wastewater rate increases, 50 percent of the property owners, plus one, must turn in the ballots.

Just what happens if treatment facility users successfully protest the rate increase seems to be up in the air. On the one hand, users are allowed to protest, on the other, state regulations demand the new facility.

This concern and other issues came to light at a public hearing March 16. The combined board included members of both services districts calling themselves the American Valley Community Services Authority. The name harkens back to 2008 when the two agencies attempted to consolidate.

Kathy Felker was elected president of the new board. Denny Churchill was elected vice president. Both are presidents of their own water district boards.

PACE review

One reason for holding the public hearing was to allow PACE Engineering of Redding to review rate increases as required to meet Proposition 218 requirements for a new wastewater treatment plant at the existing Quincy site.

PACE representatives, Grant Maxwell and Paul Reuter, led a slideshow presentation of the study.

As background, it was explained that in 2010, the State Regional Water Quality Control Board imposed new effluent limits on the wastewater treatment plant shared by the two districts. To legally operate, the plant must have a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit.

When QCSD received its operating permit in June 2016, the state had imposed stricter allowable limits for lead, copper and ammonia. These new requirements essentially made the treatment plant, built in 1982 and upgraded since that time, obsolete.

Both districts then came together and hired PACE Engineering to study the options and provide the best plan to proceed.

PACE representatives advised the boards that they could build a new treatment plant and continue the partnership as before; East Quincy could build its own plant, or upgrade the existing facility.

The most economical method, as recommended by PACE consultants, and agreed upon by the boards, is a new $26 million wastewater treatment plant.

Rate increases

Sewer treatment rates will increase to help pay for the new facility over the next five years, beginning in fiscal year 2017-18. Currently, treatment rates in Quincy are $27.57 for single-family residential use. Collection fees, for the same bill, are currently $24.65, for a total monthly bill of $52.22.

Beginning next year, treatment will increase to $30.88, while collection will remain the same for the next five years. By the end of the five-year period, Treatment fees will have increased to a projected $51.69 per month.

Multi-family and commercial wastewater rates are different. Only the property owner receives a bill.

In East Quincy, single-family residential rates for collection go from $27.92 this year, to $28.48 next year. By 2021-22, that rate would increase to $30.83 for collection.

For treatment, East Quincy property owners currently pay $27.57. That would increase to $30.88 next year, and to $51.69 in five years.

Again, property owners of multi-family or commercial properties are billed different rates.

While looking at the projected rate increases, a member of the audience asked why the rate increases are limited to a five-year projection. Reuter explained that under Prop. 218 processes such as this are limited to five years. Then public agencies or boards must reassess the process and provide new data for the public to examine.

This process is also spelled out in a draft Prop. 218 notice.

As noted, the rate increases are part of the plan to pay for the new wastewater treatment plant.

Both districts are seeking grant funding to help pay for the plant. The rates are based on the districts receiving $8.5 million in grant funding.

Grant searches

To date, both boards have sent a letter to key state representatives requesting assistance in finding grant funding sources. Those letters have not been ignored, but to date, the districts have not received solid commitments of funding.

Members of both boards have learned that if they consolidate they stand to receive $2 million more than if they remain independent. By consolidating, they could receive as much as $8 million. At this stage, none of the grantors have guaranteed any funding amount.

Other districts

Local customers are not alone. Portola, Chester, Anderson and the city of Weed are just a few districts facing similar problems, Reuter told the audience. Costs for treatment services are also increasing.

One of the big differences when comparing rates is that costs for new facilities are proportionately the same. The difference comes in that the larger the area, the more people there are to share in the costs.

Upcoming dates

Protest ballots with self-addressed envelopes — not stamped — will be mailed out to all property owners in the East Quincy and Quincy services districts.

As background, it was QCSD attorney Jan Klement who convinced his board to include the envelope.

In February, EQSD board members spent some time discussing whether they should include a self-addressed, stamped envelope, an addressed envelope or a post card-style ballot.

QCSD board member Dick Castaldini was at that February meeting to explain his district’s reasons for making the process for potential respondents as easy as possible.

Ultimately, both districts decided on the same method for protest mailers.

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