Brookings to increase sewer fee by $2.35

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer January 15, 2013 11:16 pm

The City of Brookings will draft a resolution to raise Sewer Replacement Fees by $2.35 per month and another to place on the November ballot a question asking voters to continue a sewer bond that otherwise expires next year.

The decisions were made during the city council’s regular meeting Monday night.

The $2.35 fee increase is on top of $2.79 a month residents already pay for sewer services and will go to finish work to repair damage inflicted on area infrastructure during the Nov. 20 storm. It means sewer bills will increase from $11.16 per month to $13.51 per month.

The bond, if approved, would replace the $2.35 fee increase and fund mitigation plans to avoid such disasters in the future. If the bond issue isn’t approved by voters, the $2.35 cent assessment would stay in place up to 10 years.

The City Council decided not to put the bond question on the May ballot because they do not yet know the cost of the mitigation, which includes improvements on culverts and other pipes, inspections and clean-outs.

Councilor Jake Pieper said he is not in favor of the bond issue because he doesn’t think voters will approve it.

“That’s what we do here,” he said with a laugh. “Costs are going up so fast, people can’t keep up. Unless I think there’s even a chance it’ll pass, I’m not going to lobby for it going on the ballot.”

He noted that even though the idea is to eliminate the fee increase once a bond is approved, that is no guarantee.

“We can’t promise that,” Pieper said. “Nothing would stop (a) council from increasing the fees the next day. It doesn’t take long for the public to figure that out.”                                   

Currently, the most urgent project the city must undergo is to replace the sewer lift station that serves six houses on Beach Avenue. It was swept down the ocean cliffside during the storm, and land there continues to erode, said city Public Works Director Loree Pryce.

Rental of temporary pumps there is costing the city $10,000 a month.

“We have no choice but to rebuild what failed,” Pryce said. “The lift station just fell apart. It’s so exposed. In its current condition it will continue to fail.”

Soil in the area has continued to erode, cracking the foundation of a nearby house. Pryce wondered if it wouldn’t be more feasible to require homeowners to provide their own lift service.

A new design engineers created has cut the cost of reinstalling the station in half, to $350,000, and the control panel that washed over the cliff was recovered and is operable.

Other projects needed are paving Ransom Road, which was damaged by a sinkhole, replacing a wall that ran adjacent to that road and replacing culverts in a private lot behind Oil Can Henry’s.

“There are pros and cons about having something paid for by property taxes rather than rate increases,” Pieper said. “I’d be interested to hear what ‘Main Street’ feels about it. The pitchforks come out more often when you’re talking about fee increases.”

“It’s a tough decision,” said Council Kelly McClain. “It’s a lot of money. But we have to bite the bullet and do it. It shouldn’t take a ton of time to make tough decisions.”

Budget talks get under way this spring, and Pieper also expects requests for sewer and water fee increases – up to about 10 percent and 5 percent respectively.

“Last year, they asked for a 19 percent increase on sewer fees to cover the lack of development for SDCs (Sewer Development Charges),” he said. “We gave them about half; I’m pretty sure they’ll ask for the other half.”