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Major Change in Sewer Service Rates Approved

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Over the loud objections of some businesses, the Orange County Sanitation District this week adopted a radical new rate structure that will dramatically increase the cost of sewer service for hundreds of carwashes, restaurants and supermarkets.

Some heavy water-users such as sit-down restaurants and dinner houses will see their rates rise the most, from an average of $320 a year to $2,700.

Conventional carwashes will see their annual charges jump from $140 to $1,500, while the average supermarket will experience a rate increase from $1,200 to $2,700.

Apartment and other multifamily complexes will see a more modest increase of about 8%, which amounts to about $8.25 a year for each unit.

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Many single-family homes and businesses will see small drops in their bills under the plan, which is the result of a yearlong effort by the district to make customers pay their fair share.

“We wanted to make the rate structure more equal and fair across the board,” agency spokeswoman Michelle Tuchman said.

The sanitation district’s board approved the rate structure Wednesday night despite objections from dozens of restaurant owners, carwash managers and others who said it is unfair for them to shoulder such massive increases.

The board did agree to phase in some of the steepest rate hikes over three years instead of one, but critics remain unhappy.

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“Garden Grove and west Santa Ana have a lot of mom-and-pop restaurants, and they are very vulnerable to these kinds of increases,” said Garden Grove Councilman Mark Leyes, who opposed the new rate structure. “I think phasing in was a good move, but it’s still not good enough.”

David Cordero, of the Apartment Assn. of Orange County, said apartment owners throughout Orange County were trying to figure out a way to pay their bills without having to raise their tenants’ rents.

“Our apartment owners are going to have to pay a substantial increase,” he said. “It’s too early to start talking legal action, but we want to do what we can to keep this from moving forward.”

Tuchman stressed that the new rates are designed to more fairly distribute costs and that the district’s total collections will remain the same.

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The district changed the rates for carwashes because of the amount of water they deposit into the sewer system. Sit-down restaurants got hit because the water from cleaning dishes is especially dirty and needs extra treatment, she said.

The apartment rates are going up because of new countywide demographic data showing a jump in the last few years in the number of people living per apartment unit.

The rising rates for some businesses will allow the district to reduce bills for other customers. The average church will see its water bill drop from about $270 to $75. A Santa Ana homeowner will have his sewer bill cut from $100 a year to $96.

Last year, however, the district increased rates in some parts of county to help pay for improvements to the aging sewer system.

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Billing Change

Here are some highlights of the Orange County Sanitation District’s new rate structure, which is designed to make customers pay their fair share. Sewer bills are averages for a one-year period. Some new rates will be phased in over three years:

Annual sewer bill, by type of customer

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type of customer Old New Conventional carwash $140 $1,500 Sit-down restaurant/dinner house $320 $2,700 Supermarket $1,200 $2,700 Church $270 $75 Santa Ana homeowner $100 $96

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Source: Orange County Sanitation District

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