Auburn City Council balks at 40 percent sewer rate increase

City wants county to take the lead
By: Lien Hoang Journal Correspondent
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Fearing that residents’ money could be flushed down the drain, Auburn city council members stopped short Monday of backing efforts to consolidate the county’s sewage treatment.
After more than three hours of discussion, the council instead adopted a resolution expressing interest in a centralized system to replace Placer County’s seven wastewater treatment agencies.
The project could run up an initial tab of $27.5 million to $37.5 million for the city and raise utility bills nearly 40 percent. But, signaling frustration at county officials for not taking the lead on the sewer, council members amended their resolution to put the onus of funding on the county.
“For the hundredth time, I do think it’s a good idea,” Mayor Keith Nesbitt said after multiple presenters spoke on behalf of the concept. But what gave him pause was the prospect of spending millions of dollars on a pipeline that might not pay for itself in the next generation or two.
Under consideration is a proposal by the City of Lincoln, which seeks to build and operate the facility in question. Among other pipelines, Auburn would construct one to link its current wastewater treatment plant to Lincoln’s. It also would kick in $1.8 million to help Lincoln defray the cost of design and environmental studies.
Supporters hope the regional sewer will save money in the long run through economies of scale - that is, more customers sharing the price of a single utility.
Robert Emerick, an engineer behind the Lincoln plan, told the council that handling sewage in one place would be cheaper ultimately.
“That’s the only reason to go down to Lincoln,” he said. The agricultural terrain, Emerick added, made it easier to recycle water there with minimal infrastructural cost.
Some alternatives could spread out ownership and responsibility of a central facility.
Residents now pay roughly $58 a month for sewage services, though the bill is as high as $83 for some, according to the Auburn Public Works Department. From that, a regional sewer would shave off close to $4, saving Auburn a total of $200,000 per year on operation and maintenance fees. Still, if the city gets no outside funding, toilet-flushers could expect to pay $75-$80 monthly, a nearly 40 percent jump.
County supervisors have told the council that joining the sewage network would save money in other areas. Placer County currently is racking up fines because another plant in North Auburn - which could also link up with Lincoln - doesn’t comply with some permitting requirements. By adopting a regional plan, it could stop the penalties, as well as save money on a future, mandatory upgrade.
“If we had the political will to make it happen, it’s a no-brainer,” Robert Weygandt, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said Monday night.
He and District 3 Supervisor Jim Holmes attended the council meeting after writing a letter to the members last month. In it, they asked that Auburn decide whether to throw its lot in with the regional project, ahead of a similar decision the board plans to make in March.


Council also talks redevelopment, affordable housing

Auburnite to get engraved tile in Central Square

The Auburn City Council will take over the housing arm of a former redevelopment agency, under a resolution approved by the members Monday night.
Such agencies go extinct Feb. 1 after Gov. Jerry Brown waged war on them last year, sending local governments scrambling to figure out their next moves.
By assuming responsibility for affordable housing, Auburn will keep its finger in the $900,000 pie that would otherwise be controlled by the county.
The council also voted Monday in favor of an engraved tile at Central Square honoring Virgil Traynor, a retired veterinarian who founded the Auburn Community Cancer Endowment Fund. Traynor, who has cancer and served in the military, devoted a lifetime of volunteerism to the city and earned a reputation for cooking up a storm at community benefits.
Council member Kevin Hanley worried that the council circumvented protocol in approving the token, to be funded privately. He questioned, too, whether and how the ruling body should judge who deserves such dedications. Still, the vote for Traynor was unanimous.
“I always think the wake should be before the passing,” council member Bill Kirby said.
~ Lien Hoang