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Sewer assessment may raise taxes

Would take more than half of all homeowners to stop hike

Posted: April 15, 2009 3:44 a.m.
Updated: April 15, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Facilities like the one pictured might collectively need to raise an additional $250 million from the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts to properly dechlorinate the SCV's water supply, a burden expected to be passed on to the taxpayer in the form of waste-water fees.

It could get more expensive to dispose of waste water. If a proposed sewer assessment passes muster in late May, sewer rates will triple over the next six years.

The Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts must raise $250 million to pay for a new Santa Clarita waste-water facility. The burden will land on homeowners as an increased assessment in their property taxes.

Santa Clarita residents now pay $14.92 per sewage unit each month. A sewage unit is roughly 260 gallons of flow per day, said Dave Bruns, Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts assistant financial planner, and constitutes an average of the effluent passed by each home in the city.

Unless more than half of local homeowners file letters of protest prior to a public hearing on May 26, sewer rates could jump from $14.92 per month to $17.92 per month for each homeowner on July 1 and climb to $25.75 by July 1, 2011.

A review after 2011 will determine the rate-increase increments between 2012 and 2015, when rates could hit $47 per month, Bruns said.

The sanitation district board, however, may offer a safety valve - it could vote against the increases, or it could vote for smaller increases.

“We’re definitely concerned with the increase,” said Frank Ferry, Santa Clarita mayor and member of the Sanitation Districts board.

The culprit is a mandate by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board to remove high levels of chloride from the water spewing from two Santa Clarita wastewater plants into the Santa Clara River, Ferry said.

The chloride makes it difficult for farmers to use the water to grow strawberries and avocados downstream because the plants don’t thrive when irrigated with salty water, he said.

“Well, let (the farmers) pay for it,” said Gary Carter, of Newhall. Carter said the increases are coming at the worst time, considering the state’s financial crisis. “Why am I, Joe Homeowner, paying for it?” he said.

A mix of groundwater and imported water from the Sacramento Delta creates the salty flow that passes through the treatment plants, Bruns said. A water-softener removal program started in December will help to cleanse the system of some of the salt, but more needs to be done, he said.

“This kind of stuff it’s green, it’s fun, it’s trendy, but in these economic times, it’s Looney Tunes,” Carter said.

The original plan was to dump the salt in the ocean through an out-fall line between Santa Clarita and Oxnard, Ferry said. The price tag for that plan was $500 million. The Sanitation Districts scrapped the out-fall line because of the cost and hatched the $250 million treatment plant plan in December 2008, Ferry said.

The treatment plant will use reverse-osmosis microfiltration to remove chloride, Bruns said.

The new plant saves $250 million, but Ferry wants to know whether more money can be saved.

“(The city’s) still concerned with the new number,” Ferry said.

Ferry wants to see more options during at the public hearing scheduled for May 26. He said he would like to see the Sanitation Districts explore stretching the rate increase over more than seven years.

But stretching the rate increase across more than seven years is off the table because the facility must be operational by May 2015. The rate increases must stay on schedule for the next seven years to pay for the project, Bruns said.

The Sanitation Districts will hold public information meeting on May 6, 11 and 14 at the Santa Clarita City Hall at 23920 Valencia Blvd. A public hearing is scheduled for May 26 at Santa Clarita City Hall.


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