The City of Santa Barbara's Wastewater Department wants to increase sewer rates by 5.5 percent next year to cover huge capital-improvement projects coming up.
It’s unusual to have rates increase this much, but the city is preparing for a lot more debt service, according to Finance Director Bob Samario.
Santa Barbara is going out for $35 million in State Water Resources Control Board loans to rehabilitate the secondary treatment at the El Estero Wastewater Treatment Plant and improve the anaerobic digestion process, Wastewater Department Director Christopher Toth said.
Both major projects should be finished by 2019 and won’t interrupt wastewater treatment operations, Toth said.
El Estero has been in service since the early 1980s, and the improvements will ensure the city can get another 30 to 50 years of use out of it, he said.
Upgrades will make the plant more efficient but won’t expand capacity at all.
The Wastewater Department has been increasing rates by 4 percent per year recently, so this is a significant bump.
Toth told the city Finance Committee that the long-range plan is to increase rates by 5.5 percent for the next two years and 5 percent annually after that.
Notices will go out to customers soon, and a public hearing will be held in June.
The City Council doesn’t normally weigh in on rate increases, but will discuss the sewer rates since they are increasing more than usual, Samario said.
Trash rates could be raised 2 percent this year. Santa Barbara’s contract with MarBorg Industries includes a Consumer Price Index increase every year, which is low at 0.9 percent due to the nearly stagnant economy, Samario said.
The city proposes a 0.69 percent increase to replace and maintain the 1,300 city-owned trash containers like the ones on State Street and in front of City Hall. Most of them were installed by the Redevelopment Agency, but no money was set aside to maintain or replace them.
Finance Committee members were supportive of the idea since the CPI is low this year, Samario said.
Santa Barbara County regularly raises tipping fees (for dumping trash at the landfill) but may not this year, which means that cost wouldn’t be included in rate increases next year.
Water rates are up in the air since the city isn’t sure what will happen with the drought.
City staff suggested a 3 percent rate increase, but wants to wait on a decision until the end of the rainy season.