With little resident opposition, the Rohnert Park City Council voted 5 to 0 Tuesday evening to increase sewer rates by $2 per month, which will gradually increase to $10 per month by July 2022 in order to keep up with upkeep costs for the treatment plant’s aging system.
The decision came after the acceptance of the final Sewer Rate Study Report and a public hearing where no public comments opposing the increase were heard. The Rohnert Park City Clerk, JoAnne Buergler did receive eight written protests, however, because written protests were not presented by a majority of the homes affected by the hike, the council was able to vote and finalize the increase.
Council member Jake Mackenzie, who attended a water subcommittee meeting with Council member Gina Belforte, said that it was recommended the council move forward with the proposed increase and other council members showed unanimous support for the hike.
A letter to the editor received by The Voice from RP resident, Robert Grundman expressed frustration that rates haven’t gone down despite the city recently refinancing sewer bonds.
Grundman wrote in the letter to The Voice, “The city took advantage of the bond market rates to refinance the sewer bonds to a lower rate, but our rates did not go down. The city engaged a computer firm to provide software, ect., to produce utility bills and our sewer rates increased to provide those bills including the sewer use calculations. The calculations are no longer provided and our sewer bills did not go down.” He also expressed concern regarding the Graton Casino and Rohnert Park relationship regarding sewer and rates and pay.
Rohnert Park City Manager, Darrin Jenkins clarified that this was a positive relationship and without the casino, residents would have to dig deeper in their pocket books for utility rates.
“Our customers’ rates would be about two percent higher than they are and part of the reason we went for three years without an increase is because we are getting money from the casino. First, they pay the same developer fee as any other person adding a dwelling to our system would on a per gallon basis and that money is used to pay some of the debt service,” Jenkins explained.
And while nobody likes an increase on any good or service, city officials say in the agenda item report that due to a loss of sewer rate revenue from the multi-year drought and to keep up with pricier maintenance costs, an increase is needed.
“While the financial condition of the sewer utility is not critical, reduced water sales did place some financial stress on the sewer utility,” plus, “... The current revenues are insufficient to cover operation and maintenance expenses,” according to the agenda item report prepared by Director of Public Works and Community Services, John McArthur.
In Assistant City Manager, Don Schwartz’s latest City Column in The Voice last week, Schwartz explained that RP’s treatment system has been connected to the city of Santa Rosa’s wastewater treatment plant to try to save on costs. However, as stated in his column, “76 percent of the operating costs for our sewer services come from the Santa Rosa plant,” and now because of the plant’s aging infrastructure, operational costs are higher to maintain and keep an eye on the pumps and lines. Costs also go towards regulatory requirements for environmental safety and protection.
And while the city’s system has not yet experienced any failures, it is over 50 years old so proper system maintenance is key to ensuring that the system runs smoothly without any hiccups.
The city’s rates will still remain among some of the lowest in Sonoma County. For a single family dwelling unit in Sebastopol, sewer rates start at around $57.05. Petaluma rates are even higher at around $68.61 for residential homes according to a sewer rate study by the Reed Group. Healdsburg is by far the city with the most expensive bill at around $89.
Based on the scenario of using 4,000 gallons per month of winter water usage, the current average sewer bill is around $53.16. Using the same parameters, the new outlook for a sewer bill with the the 3 percent increase is estimated to be around $56.12. However, the City of Rohnert Park website states that the average sewer bill is based upon around an 8,000 gallon usage scenario, which would make a typical bill with the current rates be around $100 instead of the current rate of $53.16 amount described in the report. If residents use 4,000 gallons per month as stated in the report, the estimated bill amount with the $2 increase will indeed be $56.12. If residents use twice that amount, around 8,000 gallons, then their bill with the new rate would be around $112.
Council member Mackenzie also referred back to the comparable chart of the different sewer rates for other municipalities in Sonoma County, pointing out that Santa Rosa has to pay a much larger amount than RP residents do even after the RP increase.
“If you are living in Santa Rosa, you are much better off here,” Mackenzie said of the sewer rates.
RP’s sewer hike will be the first increase in three years and will become effective on bills starting June 1.