State - INACTIVE

Hughson sewer rates set to nearly double

HUGHSON -- The city plans to nearly double its sewer rates by 2012 to pay for what officials call an "urgent and unavoidable" upgrade to its waste-water treatment plant.

The bill for a single-family residence would rise from the current $44.64 to $82.37 by July 2012. The first increase, to $51, would take place in October.

Commercial customers would see the same percent increase.

The new rates passed unanimously at the council's Monday meeting, but council members said they worried about the effect on residents with tight incomes.

"I think 84 (dollars) is going to be a lot," Councilman Doug Humphreys said. "I just think this is definitely going to be a hot-button issue."

"I don't think anyone likes it," Councilman Matt Beekman said.

In a notice to property owners and tenants, city officials said the waste-water treatment plant provides "substandard treatment" and must be replaced. There have been "critical failures," and state authorities have issued "multiple notices of violation," the notice read.

Adam Lynch, a consultant with Berkeley-based Bartle Wells Associates, said many Central Valley cities are investing in upgrades to their waste-water treatment facilities because of higher state standards.

"It sounds like a lot now, but as cities have to keep upgrading ... they're all going through the exact same thing," Lynch said.

The original 2006 estimate for the waste-water treatment plant expansion was $35 million. But with design changes and the competitive climate in the construction industry, the low bid on the project recently came in at $15.3 million.

"I'm just happy the bids have come in at 50 percent of what we thought," Mayor Ramon Bawanan said.

"These are heavy rates. ... It's something I think we need to move forward on."

The city must hold a public hearing with at least 45 days' notice on the rate increases. A majority of the roughly 1,800 Hughson ratepayers must submit written protests to overturn the new sewer rates, city officials said.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.

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