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Info on Proposed Water & Sewer Rate Increases

Good morning – I apologize in advance for the length of this email, but the issue of proposed water and sewer rate increases is fairly complex, and so I want to be sure you have some good details.

Over the last few years, as we’ve seen regular increases in water and sewer rates, the City has also been letting you know that such increases will be continuing for the foreseeable future, due to constantly rising costs of repairing, replacing, and maintaining these critical systems. I want to outline for you this ongoing situation, and the need for the current proposal for such increases. This information and a lot more detail are online at www.redwoodcity.org/water.

I’m sure you’ll agree that no one wants to turn on their faucet and see it run dry, or experience a sewer line break in their neighborhood. And it’s important to have these systems in a condition to resist damage when the next big earthquake hits. Redwood City is constantly working to ensure these systems are up-to-date, dependable, and safe. Your water and sewer rates pay for these services, and I assure you that those rates are used only for these services.

However, there are significant and escalating costs involved with making sure the community’s water and sewer services are readily available and in good working order. When the City’s cost of providing these services goes up, the rates must be raised in order to fund those escalating costs.

In light of this, Redwood City is considering a 12% increase in water rates (about $4 per month for a typical household), and a  9% increase for residential sewer rates (about $5 per month; commensurate increases are proposed for commercial sewer accounts, based on water usage and business type). The Council will consider this proposal at a public hearing on Monday, May 7, 2012, at 7 pm at City Hall, 1017 Middlefield Road. Information on how to protest this rate proposal is online at www.redwoodcity.org/water.

I encourage you to attend a community information meeting on Wednesday, April 4, 2012, at 7 pm, at the Public Works Services building, 1400 Broadway, to get information on water and sewer services provided, the ongoing maintenance and improvement projects involved, and the rate proposal. A notice of this proposed rate increase is being mailed to all property owners, and includes information on the procedure for protesting the proposal. That legally-required notice can be viewed online at www.redwoodcity.org/water.

You can be assured that the City staff and Council fully understand that these difficult economic times are a struggle for many people, and they share residents’ anxiety about escalating monthly bills. You may be interested to know that even with these proposed increases, Redwood City’s rates will still be at or below the average for Peninsula communities, and the community will be assured of the most dependable water and sewer services possible.

There are a number of major regional and local projects to upgrade and protect water and sewer systems, which are driving these proposed rate increases. For the sewer system, those projects include:

  • $200 million over the next ten years for Redwood City’s share of the replacement of outdated facilities at the regional sewage treatment plant
  • $100 million over the next ten years for the repair/replacement of the City’s aging sewer infrastructure

For the water system, projects include:

  • $80 million over the next 20 years for the repair, replacement, and maintenance of Redwood City’s drinking water system
  • $10 million annually over the next 30 years for Redwood City’s share of the seismic upgrade of the Hetch Hetchy water system, our community’s sole-source of drinking water (in the form of regular and significant increases in the wholesale cost of water)

A little more on the water rates: this year, the wholesale cost of water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC, owners of the Hetch Hetchy water system) will be raised by 10%. These wholesale rates have been raised annually, and often quite significantly (38% last year, for example).The City tries to “smooth out” those sharp, unpredictable increases by approving more steady, moderate increases each year – most often lower than SFPUC’s annual increase, sometime a little higher, like this year – to avoid the drastic “see-saw” range of increases imposed by that agency. This smoothing-out is done with a rate stabilization fund, reserves which come from the rates you pay, allowing the City to keep pace, over time, with the actual costs of providing a high quality, dependable water supply to the community. As a result, we’ve implemented average annual increases of about 8-10% over the last few years, instead of much higher increases matching those of the SFPUC, on a more periodic basis.

Please do go to www.redwoodcity.org/water for a lot more details on what these increases mean for a typical household or for a business, and try to attend the information meeting on April 4 to get your questions answered.

And finally, I must tell you that in the coming years Redwood City will continue to see additional rate increases proposed for both water and sewer services, in order to meet the increasing costs of providing these services. This is a challenge for you, and for the City, but it’s unavoidable and urgently needed in order to ensure our community has quality water and sewer systems.

Thank you,

~malcolm

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