By Joe Tash
Solana Beach’s annual sewer service charge will rise 2.5 percent in the fiscal year that begins on July 1, following a unanimous vote to increase the fee by the City Council on Wednesday, May 8.
Also on Wednesday, the council scheduled a June 26 hearing to consider a rate increase for the city’s trash haulers, Coast Waste Management and EDCO Waste and Recycling Services.
Both companies have requested increases of 1.9 percent based on the Consumer Price Index. The charge for residential service would increase to $21.08 per month from the current $20.68, and the average commercial rate would increase to $101.04 from $99.15.
Based on the council’s action Wednesday, the annual sewer fee for a single family home will rise to $588 per year, up from the current annual charge of $574. The city’s sewage system serves residents of Solana Beach, along with small portions of San Diego and Del Mar.
Former Solana Beach Mayor Celine Olson was one of two people who spoke against the increase at Wednesday’s meeting. Olson said that before the city incorporated in 1986, the annual sewer fee under the county government was less than $100.
Councilman Tom Campbell responded that the county did a poor job of maintaining the sewer system. “We inherited a maintenance nightmare,” Campbell said.
Olson said she was also concerned that the increased fee will be used to pay for salary increases for sewer system managers and employees.
However, City Manager David Ott and council members said neither managers nor staff have had a raise in five years. The money raised by the rate increase would be used to pay for operating the sewer system, as well as maintenance and needed capital improvements, not for employee raises, they said.
“These increases are truly justifiable,” Campbell said.
Olson said the city should put the issue to a vote, but the city’s attorney said a public vote is not required for increases of water, sewer or trash collection fees. If the city had received a written protest of the fees from a majority of its residents — or approximately 6,000 protests — the rate increase would have been blocked, officials said.
Written notices were sent out citywide in March, and as of Wednesday, only two written protests had been received, according to the Solana Beach city clerk.
A consultant hired by the city in 2006 to analyze the sewer system’s capital and operating needs recommended 5 percent rate increases each year through 2013/14. According to a staff report, the sewer fee was raised 5 percent for the first three years, but no rate increases were imposed in 2010/11 or 2011/12, due to the recession.
A 2.5 percent increase was approved last year, and another 2.5 percent increase will take effect July 1 with the council’s vote on Wednesday.