For residents in Half Moon Bay, Moss Beach and Montara, sewer rates will increase starting this summer. Officials say the money is necessary to pay for repairs to aging infrastructure and more spending at the Sewer Authority Mid-coastside.
Additionally, customers of the Montara Water and Sanitary District will be asked to pay a new annual charge to maintain the water collection system.
This month the Half Moon Bay City Council and the MWSD board of directors approved the increases after a public hearing process and formal protest period. Residents within the Granada Community Services District have a reprieve. It last raised rates in 2018, and officials say there are no immediate plans to do so again.
Those who are raising rates in the middle of a recession are not particularly happy about it.
“We’d prefer to not be here because we’d love to have a rate structure that was
funding the operations adequately,” Half Moon Bay Public Works Director John Doughty said.
Discussions about the rate increases for Half Moon Bay and MWSD ratepayers started a few years ago before the state was at risk of entering into a financial downturn. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic severely impacting the economy, Doughty said he recognizes the unfortunate timing of asking residents to pay more, but said the need for repairs is paramount.
“We are here because we have the responsibility to keep our sewer operations funded. If we do not maintain our
sewer system, it is far worse than what people are doing to our beaches and neighborhoods,” he said. “The sooner we do this, the less costly the adjustments will be ultimately.”
Half Moon Bay ratepayers have not seen an increase in rates since 2014. Doughty said it wasn’t until recently that there was a noticeable change in costs from SAM. The sewer authority budget has increased by 51 percent.
Rates for Half Moon Bay customers will be increased by about 23 percent the first year, followed by a 13 percent increase for the following four fiscal years. Residents will not pay for the first increase until December when it is included in property taxes. Half Moon Bay is also under order to comply with Proposition 218, which requires all residents to move to a flat rate of service. Doughty said some users will see an increase in fees while others will actually see a decrease as rates even out.
“If we did nothing by fiscal year 2022-23 our sewer fund would be below zero in terms of our cash situation,” he said. “We would not have the funds to pay operations, maintenance or collections in the city limits. That is not an acceptable option.”
Similarly, MWSD is in the position of needing to fund repairs and pipeline replacement. While rates for MWSD customers were raised about two years ago, General Manager Clemens Heldmaier said additional increases are needed as costs from SAM continue to rise.
A recent analysis reported SAM needs about $40 million over the next five to 10 years for wastewater treatment plant improvements. Additionally, MWSD estimates needing $1.9 million per year for rehab and replacement of aging facilities over the next 20 years.
“Many regional agencies have adopted rate increases. It’s a nationwide problem,” Heldmaier said.
Several ratepayers spoke at the June 4 MWSD meeting as part of the public hearing. Many were frustrated with approving yet another increase and in the midst of a recession.
Heldmaier said there were multiple written protests, but that the volume of complaints did not meet the legal standard to delay an increase.
MWSD ratepayers also will be charged about $550 for an annual fee designated to create a funding source to maintain and replace aging water pipelines, tanks and pumps for the water collection and distribution system. Heldmaier said that in recent years costs for capital projects has skyrocketed, with prices almost doubling since 2009.
Though water rates increased over the last two years, an estimated $2 million is needed annually for improvements. Heldmaier said the district needs the money in order to avoid going into debt and to qualify for grants or loans. He recognized that the timing of the increase is “unfortunate” given the current economic situation.
To offset costs for those struggling financially, the district is offering an Economic Hardship Assistance Discount, which customers can qualify for if they are part of the PG&E Care program or Recology’s low-income rate program.