Daly City is increasing its sewer service rates to pay for needed maintenance, a hike of 9 percent per year for three years that has been decried by some residents.
The City Council recently approved the new charges during a special meeting. According to a staff report, an annual bill for a typical Daly City family will go from $433.80 to $473.40 in fiscal year 2013-14, an increase of $3.30 per month. By 2016, the rate increase will raise the rates by about $3.90 per month from what is paid now.
At the meeting, residents raised concerns about the ability of retired and unemployed people to bear the hike, and pointed out that 9 percent per year works out to an almost 30 percent increase by the third year.
Councilwoman Carol Klatt said the decision to raise rates was not easy to make. She said none of the additional funds would be used for salaries or benefits, and she said the city is even considering laying off employees. She explained that the rate increase would pay for much-needed maintenance to the city's sewer infrastructure.
"We haven't had a raise in water rates since 2007. We've done everything to keep water rates low, but at some point, you have to look at fixing equipment," Klatt said. "I live on a fixed income. My husband is retired. We're all suffering."
Patrick Sweetland, the director of the Department of Water and Wastewater Resources, said the city's 168 miles of sewer mains, five sewage lift stations and associated equipment are worth $86 million, and badly in need of maintenance.
"A lot of our pieces of equipment, pipes and facilities are way past their useful lives," Sweetland said.
The alternatives to the repairs, Sweetland said, are not desirable.
"We want to avoid having cars fall into sinkholes," he said. "I don't think the public in Daly City wants to see sewage anywhere but in a buried pipe, going to a wastewater treatment plant for safe disposal."
Sweetland said the city's treatment system processes the wastewater into nonpotable water that's safe enough to discharge in the ocean or use on landscaped medians and local golf courses. He said because Daly City discharges some water into the ocean, the maintenance of its sewage treatment system is not just a matter of public health, but also crucial to the environment.
Vice Mayor David Canepa agreed that the fee increase was necessary to protect public health. He also pointed out that even with the rate hike, Daly City would still have the lowest sewer and water rates in San Mateo County.