The Harbor Sanitation District will hike customers’ rates by 6.9 percent — $4 a month, but not the $92 rate hike announced last fall — the board agreed Tuesday night.
The new rates, intended to keep up with system maintenance, will be effective Aug. 10.
The meeting was attended by about a dozen citizens concerned the board was going to enact the far higher rate due to money the district owes the city of Brookings for treating Harbor’s wastewater.
But HSD is treating that debt and the rate increase as separate issues, noting that there hasn’t been a rate increase since 2007 and money owed to Brookings is unrelated to current water costs.
The 6.9 percent increase means residential and mobilehome customers will now pay $62 a month — a rate those in the audience indicated they felt was fair. The rates are based on individual residential units, not the number of people who might be living in them.
When asked about that, HSD attorney Jim Coffey said it would be impossible to monitor, as people move all the time.
“We can’t have the sewer police coming over to you house making sure there’s only one person flushing the toilet,” he said. “You’re going to have guests come over to your house flushing your toilet, too.”
Commercial residential uses, including hotels, cabins and recreational vehicles, will pay a minimum of $33.14 a month and an additional fee of $8.93 per 1,000 gallons used. And a separate $62 a month fee will be assessed to mobile home park recreation, meeting and laundry rooms.
If properties are not metered to monitor water used, the district will estimate volume based on other similar uses in the area.
Commercial customers such as restaurants will also pay a minimum of $33.14 and a $10.16 fee for every 1,000 gallons of water used, and industrial customers will pay $33.14 a month and $17.17 per each additional 1,000 gallons of use.
Government user rates are independently negotiated, and are comparable to those imposed on industrial users, said board member Anthony Burkett. And those governmental entities that don’t pay taxes to the sanitation district will be assessed to offset the district’s loss of that revenue.
Less than anticipated
A few residents said that while the rate increase seemed realistic, they were still suspicious that mobilehome park owners would pass on even higher rates in their rents. There’s nothing the HSD can do about that if it were to occur, however.
Others expressed relief that the rate increase wasn’t as high as they’d been led to believe last year. Then, a postcard was distributed to customers announcing a proposal to increase rates 59 percent — from $58 to $92.23 — if the district were to agree to a new rate structure submitted by the city of Brookings, which treats Harbor’s wastewater.
That proposed rate increase, approved by the city last September, better reflected the cost of treating effluent. It also included what the city feels is Harbor’s fair share of money owed for past debt and maintenance costs of the wastewater treatment plant, said City Manager Gary Milliman. It also took into account the money Brookings alleges the sanitation district owes it for treating its wastewater under a contract that hasn’t been updated since 2007.
Brookings officials said HSD officials refused to meet during those years to renegotiate a contract, and so sent the new fee schedule and a past-due bill to the board. The city has billed Harbor $62,520 each month since August, and HSD has paid between $29,000 and $50,000 each month, based on the old fee schedule, said City Finance Director Janell Howard. The net now owed, city officials say, is $270,176, not including any money it might receive this month.
The $4 monthly rate increase has nothing to do with any money HSD might owe the city, Burkett emphasized.
“We will address that,” he said, when asked what the board’s plans are regarding the debt. “We will have to change some capital projects around. We’re trying to keep the system ahead of today (maintained) so we don’t have problems.”
“We’re continuing negotiations with them,” Milliman said. “I think it’s close to being resolved.”
The biggest problems HSD has, like its neighbor across the river, include customers who flush such items as baby wipes — advertised to be flushable, but aren’t — and shifting lands that can damage pipes.
Both Brookings and Harbor have been snaking cameras into their pipes to determine where weaknesses might lie in their water and stormwater systems. Harbor incurs additional costs when rainwater that infiltrates cracks in the pipes must then be sent to Brookings for treatment.