On Feb. 16, the Paso Robles City Council unanimously approved starting the process to increase sewer rates for the next five years.
Following the state’s Proposition 218 requirements, the community will be notified of proposed sewer increases via mail and have an opportunity to voice their support or opposition at a public hearing slated for April 20.
The proposal includes increasing sewer rates by 24 percent on July 1, followed by an increase of 8 percent for each of the following four years.
If passed, the existing residential sewer rate structure will also transition from usage-based to a fixed component that will comprise approximately 42 percent of a typical resident’s total sewer bill by the end of the five-year period. Single-family charges are currently calculated based on winter water use from the prior year. This will help reduce annual fluctuations in wastewater bills due to changes in weather and other factors.
In 2011, the city adopted a major update to sewer rates, primarily to pay for a comprehensive upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant. Similar to what’s proposed, the rates increased gradually over a five-year period, from 2011 to 2016. At the time the update included changing the rate structure from a flat rate residential sewer bill to a variable sewer bill based on winter use. According to a staff report, the change allowed residents to “pay for what you use.”
Sewer rates, which are the system’s main source of revenue, haven’t changed since.
Plant operational expenses now exceed sewer rate revenue, in part because the Templeton Community Services District opted out of using Paso Robles sewage services in 2019. In the 2019-20 fiscal year, total revenue was $9.8 million while expenses were $13.3 million.
On top of revenue loss, the city is still paying for the treatment plant’s upgrades and repairs and it anticipates a cumulative cost of $50.5 million in future repairs and replacement projects.
During the Feb. 16 meeting, Councilmember Fred Strong said that after 60 years of not improving the sewer plant because “nobody wanted to pay more in sewer taxes, or sewer rates, we don’t have a choice.”
“I’m afraid that we are really proposing a solution that still keeps us even with the increases, still among the lowest in this entire region of California. I’m hoping that we pass this and move to go to the voters and let the chips fall where they may,” Strong said. ∆