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Sonoma Valley sewer rates now based on usage

By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The way sewage rates are levied for many Sonoma Valley residences has been changed to take into account how much sewage they actually discharge, out of fairness and as a way to promote conservation.

“It is perceived as being more fair than a flat fee,” said Spencer Bader, business division manager for the Sonoma County Water Agency, which runs the Sonoma Valley County Sanitation District.

Under the new structure, two-thirds of those ratepayers are seeing charges that are flat or less than before.

A third, however, are seeing rates increased, and for some the increase is substantial.

“I don’t think as ratepayers we were given what our rates would go to,” said Mayor Joanne Sanders, who’s own home saw a 49 percent increase. “I don’t think there was a lot of information given to the public about the potential of getting hit with 50 percent rate increases.”

The sanitation district this year has a $13.2 million budget, a 5.5 percent increase over the 2011-2012 budget, which allows for sewage plant and system upgrades, Bader said.

Bader said the increase is in line with incremental increases over the past decade necessary to pay for $13.3 million in upgrades made since 1998 and for $13.6 million in upgrades being done this next year.

The district provides sewage services to 17,000 businesses and residences, both single-family and multiple family, in Sonoma and the Valley of the Moon.

Under the rate formula for the 2012-2013 budget year, there is a flat fee of $772, with the 5.5 percent increase.

However, there is now also a second tier of fees for 8,752 residences that take both sewer and water, which measures water use in January and February to set sewer rates.

For those residences, there is a flat fee of $540 to cover the district’s fixed costs, which is 70 percent of the budget.

There is an additional charge of $4.30 for each 1,000 of gallons of water projected to be used this year, based on the January and February water use.

It accounts for 30 percent of the sanitation district budget to pay for costs that are related to volume, such as electric power and chemicals, Bader said.

It is also where residences will either see savings or increases.

Bader said the new structure was requested by a group of residents and approved by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

“A group of people have shown up at fee hearings every year and requested a volume-based charge,” Bader said. “They said that with two people, a small yard and a dog and no teenage girls at home, they use less water and discharge less. They felt it was unfair to pay the same as a family of six with four teenaged girls and a big yard and a big house on the east side of Sonoma.”

The sewage district bills are distributed with property tax assessments just now reaching residents.

Sanders, who is among the third who are paying more, said her household sewer bill went from $772 to $1,092.

“That is like $40 a month,” Sanders said. “While all of us appreciate the spirit of what was trying to be accomplished, it is a tremendous burden to raise rates like that on some people. What I don’t think is fair is the abruptness of it.”

Scott Pace of Sonoma, whose bill went to $1,068 a year for his three-bedroom, 1,800-square-foot home on an 11,800-square-foot city lot, said January was an unfair month to use because it was unusually dry.

He also said he doesn’t know how he will be able to use less water.

“We have water restricters everywhere we can use them, we never let water run, we run dishes with a full load, we do full load of laundry, I also have an electronic irrigation system that adjusts based on temperature and time of year,” Pace said. “Now I have just totally shut it off and let things dry up.”

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com.





4 Responses to “Sonoma Valley sewer rates now based on usage”

  1. Dan J Drummond says:

    @CMU
    Maybe you just used a lot of water this year. Did you fill up a swimming pool this year?

    You may need to track your water usage by reading your water meter. Maybe you have a leak.
    Using less water November through February will also reduce your bill by lowering your sewer rate multiplier (for example don’t water your landscape, wash cars or hose down driveways.) If you have a lawn, you may want to look into other options.

    I read where they used to charge a yearly flat rate of $732 on your property tax bill, regardless of how much water you used. Do they still bill a whole years worth of water usage on your property tax bill, or do they now send out monthly bills?

    Have you tried these people?
    Rate questions: Spencer Bader: 707.521.6207 or spencerb@scwa.ca.gov
    Billing questions: Manuel Olvera: 707-521-6215 or molvera@scwa.ca.gov

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  2. CMU says:

    We just got hit with a $5,000 retro bill due by December 12th, with no letter to explain what the “corrected” bill was for. In addition, we received it in Friday’s mail on 11/16 at 1p. When we called the number, the voicemail was full and the whole following week they were closed. So we just now got through to “understand” what this is for, but we are a family of 4 on a small lot on the west side of town. How can this “corrected” bill be correct? And absolutely no help on how to find out more information about this, how to confirm this amount is correct, or to be allowed a payment plan. Talk about a shock. And right before the holidays. For a family that hasn’t walked away from a house underwater and unable to refinance, just seems like we keep getting kicked.

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  3. GAJ says:

    All drip at the house now and the two rentals; no lawn.

    Saves a ton.

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  4. Dan J Drummond says:

    Lawns are the most irrigated crop in America, and the runoff from fertilizers can lead to toxins and algae blooms in our creeks.

    I pay Santa Rosa water rates, so I stopped irrigating my yard in 2008. I love the real California landscape nature now provides. The cutleaf geraniums just started sprouting since the first rains. I can’t wait for the oyster plants to get big so the purple vetch has something to climb. My old lawn still comes back every year, but now it bunches and grows tall like other ornamental grasses.

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