Newport gives tentative OK to first sewer rate increase in over a decade

A typical Newport Beach resident likely will start paying $2.36 more per month for sewer service starting next year.

On a 6-1 vote Tuesday, the City Council agreed to the city’s first wastewater rate increase in more than 10 years.

Mayor Kevin Muldoon cast the lone dissenting vote, saying rates should be increased only as a last resort.

Sewer rates have not been adjusted since 2006. A structural deficit has grown in that time, leading to a $3.5-million transfer of surplus money to the wastewater fund last year. The fund pays for maintenance and improvements for the city’s system for removal and treatment of wastewater, which includes sewage and water from sinks and showers, known as “gray water.”

Some council members said previous councils had played “kick the can down the road” with the sewer rates.

“The road is at a dead end,” Councilwoman Diane Dixon said. “We cannot kick it any longer.”

Councilman Scott Peotter said the new rates are adequate to cover costs.

“This is an overdue task that previous politicians refused to face, so I’m happy to support this,” he said.

The increase will be finalized with a second vote later this month.

Most residential wastewater customers currently pay a fixed charge of $4.50 per month and a use charge of 35 cents per hundred cubic feet of water used. A hundred cubic feet, or HCF, equals 748 gallons.

The new rate structure will raise most residential fixed fees to $6.46 per month as of Jan. 1, with the per-HCF rate increasing to 38 cents. It will continue to raise rates over the subsequent four years, peaking in 2022 at $8.55 in fixed charges and 54 cents per HCF.

For the typical residential customer with average wastewater use of about 12 HCF, the new rate structure would increase the total monthly bill next year from $8.63 to $10.99.

Mayor Pro Tem Marshall “Duffy” Duffield said he is sympathetic to previous councils that had to stretch dollars during the recession.

“As time went on you’d wonder why we went ahead and built this before we addressed our pipes,” he said, referring to City Hall, which opened in 2013 with a price tag of more than $130 million. “But aside from that, I do recognize that (the recession) was a big factor.”

Dixon said maintaining sewer infrastructure is crucial for protecting Newport Harbor, which would take on waste almost immediately if a pipe malfunctioned.

This is the second attempt in as many years to raise sewer rates.

In January 2016, the City Council gave initial approval to higher rates, but it reversed course a month later after splitting on Dixon’s proposed rebate program, drawn from a general fund surplus, to cover the cost of the increases for three years.

The council again rejected staff’s rate request that March.

hillary.davis@latimes.com

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