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Rates for Water, Sewer and Trash Service May Go Up in Santa Barbara

Officials say a recent legal settlement with Santa Barbara Channelkeeper over sewage spills is partly to blame for the hikes

The City of Santa Barbara wants to raise wastewater rates by 10 percent in July, partly because of a costly legal settlement that requires the city to spend an extra $5 million on sewer-system pipe repairs over the next five years.

The city also proposes a 3.5 percent increase to water usage and monthly service charges, and a 2.69 percent increase to trash and recycling rates.

A public hearing on the proposed rate increases will be held at 2 p.m. June 12 in the City Council Chambers, 735 Anacapa St.

The recent settlement with Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, which sued last April alleging Clean Water Act violations from sewage spills, means the city will repair or replace an additional two miles of pipe annually. That cost is passing to customers with the proposed 6-percent rate increase, which piles on top of a planned 4-percent hike to deal with facility improvements at El Estero Wastewater Treatment Plant.

While Santa Barbara Channelkeeper pointed to the 171 spills since 2006, with above-average rates in 2008-09, city officials maintain they had been working on — and mostly solved — the problem by the time the organization sued in 2011.

“It was very disappointing to see Channelkeeper sue us, as we had already turned a corner and made dramatic improvements in collection-system performance,” Public Works Director Christine Andersen said after the settlement.

An average single-family residential customer would see a $3.56 monthly increase in his or her bill, according to city documents.

Water rates would increase 3.5 percent to fund infrastructure improvements at the treatment plant, and replacing water mains and pumping stations. The lingering effects of the 2007 Zaca Fire are still hampering treatment efforts, and the city is also funding a rehabilitation of the Ortega Groundwater Treatment Plant, which will help replace water supplies lost during a drought or other emergencies.

The 2.69 percent increase in trash rates would compensate for higher “tipping fees” at the Tajiguas Landfill, and a yearly Consumer Price Index raise in contract costs with the hauler.

MarBorg Industries purchased its main competitor, Allied Waste Services, last summer, and became the city’s only trash and recycling hauler. The city is negotiating a long-term contract with the company, and “if agreement on a new contract can be reached, the hauler has agreed to forgo the 1.38 percent CPI increase for fiscal year 2013,” the public hearing notice states.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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