Q&A About the 2009 System Improvements and Change in Sewer Service Charge
Questions Directly Related to the Proposed Sewer Service Charge Change
Q1: Why is a rate increase needed?
A. The District needs to increase revenue to repair and upgrade aging facilities some of which are over 50 years old. The improvements are needed to protect the environment, to continue to provide quality and reliable services, and to meet ever-increasing state and federal public health regulations.
Q2: Has the District been sensitive to customers’ current economic circumstances?
A. Yes. With current economic conditions affecting many of our customers, new rates are proposed to set at the lowest level possible while providing sufficient funding for current and future operation and maintenance and capital improvement budgets. The District’s rates currently are among the lowest in the region, and even with the proposed increases, the rates are expected to remain below average.
Q3: How are residential rates structured?
A. Rates are designed to cover the actual cost of service. Each residential unit is charged the basic flat rate. This applies to single-family homes, apartments, condominiums and other multi-family dwellings, and mobile home and trailer parks. For rooming houses, the basic flat rate is applied to each of the first two rooms used for renting and one-quarter of the basic rate for each additional rented room.
For purposes of rates, motels are considered residential. Each motel unit with a kitchen is charged the basic rate, and each motel unit without a kitchen is charged one-half the basic rate.
Q4: What are the current and proposed residential rates?
A. The current basic residential rate for 2008-09 is $303 a year or 83 cents a day. Here are the proposed residence rates over the next five years:
- 2009-10, $493 a year or $1.35 a day.
- 2010-11, $563 a year or $1.54 a day.
- 2011-12, $613 a year or $1.68 a day.
- 2012-13, $662 a year or $1.81 a day.
- 2013-14, $680 a year or $1.86 a day.
Q5: What are the proposed changes in non-residential rates?
A. Increases for non-residential rates are proportional to the rise in residential rates.
Q6: How are non-residential rates structured?
A. Rates are structured individually for each type of non-residential use. To determine an estimated cost to collect and treat wastewater from a non-residential customer, the District calculates the cost based on water usage and a strength factor, which is an average cost to treat wastewater from a particular type of non-residential customer. Thus, a low water user would pay less than a high water user in the same category of non-residential customers with the same strength factor. And, for two non-residential customers with the same water use, the one with the higher strength factor would pay more.
Q7: What calculations are used to determine non-residential rates?
A. For water use, the District obtains an average of winter and summer water usage for each non-residential customer from the Marin Municipal Water District. Excluded is water used solely for irrigation and recycled water that does not enter the District’s sewer system, i.e. water not used for toilet flushing, laundry, commercial car washes, etc.
The average water usage is converted into sanitary units. Each 20 hundred cubic feet of water is equal to one sanitary unit.
A strength factor is applied to each non-residential customer based on the type of use. Users such as office buildings, retail, churches, halls, public agencies, laundromats, service stations, medical offices, barber and beauty shops, car washes, convalescent hospitals, hospitals and the like are given a strength factor is 1.0. High strength users, such as restaurants/cafes, bakeries, mortuaries, hotels with restaurants, and markets with disposals, have a strength factor of 2.6. Mixed uses with low and high strengths are given a 2.0 strength factor. The strength factor is not applied to residences or schools.
The non-residential rate is determined by multiplying the number of sanitary units by the strength factor, and by the basic residential rate.
For example: A restaurant that has an average winter and summer water usage of 40 hundred cubic feet of water would have two sanitary units times 2.6 for its strength factor times the current residential rate of $303 per year for a total of $1,575.60 a year or $131.30 a month.
For information on the specific rates for individual non-residential customers, contact the District office at 415-472-1734.
Q8: Does the District apply a “Fairness Principal” to the way rates are structured?
A. Yes. Customers pay only for the actual cost of their service, based on the amount of wastewater generated and the strength factor. Rates are based on wastewater typically generated by a single dwelling unit each day. Sewage from residential customers is the standard against which higher strength commercial and industrial sewage discharges are measured.
Q9: What are the major benefits from a rate increase?
A. The rate increase would provide these major benefits:
- Extensive improvements to the District are aging sewer system.
- Continued effective and efficient high-quality and reliable wastewater collection, treatment and recycling.
- Protection of the environment.
- Protection of public health.
- Compliance with ever-increasing state and federal regulations.
- Continued sound fiscal practices.
Questions Related to the Repair and Upgrade Program
Q10: What condition is the sanitary system in now?
A. The District has already made substantial investments to improve its aging facilities, but even greater investments are now needed. Though the District’s operation, maintenance and repair programs have been very effective, we have wrung every ounce of value out of our sewer collection, treatment and recycling system, and now must begin an extensive facility upgrade and replacement program.
Q11: Are the upgrades and replacements really needed?
A. The District has formulated a minimum responsible five-year budget, which takes everything into consideration, provides for no more than is absolutely necessary and calls for increases in rates.
Q12: How did the District decide what projects to include in the upgrade program?
A. To accomplish the upgrade efficiently and at the lowest cost, the District carried out an extensive system-wide analysis that considered every aspect of its operation: facilities, staffing, engineering, finance and regulatory requirements. From this analysis, the District developed a detailed pan for the next five years that prioritizes the most important projects that must be completed and identifies the minimum charges needed to fund them.
Q13: How will the upgrade program be financed?
A. The program largely will be financed on a pay-as-you-go approach with revenue from rates. A few major items will be funded through bonds or loans. Costly, items that last decades are often financed to decrease the impact on current customers and spread the payment onto future customers, since they will benefit also.
Q14: In general, what will the upgrades involve?
A. The improvements involve the sewer pipeline collection system, pump stations and force mains, treatment plant, cooperative water recycling, reclamation area and general upgrades and repairs.
Q15: What projects will involve the sewer pipeline collection system?
A. These are the principal projects:
- Rehabilitation of 3,696 feet of sewer main and lower lateral pipeline each year at cost of $930,000 a year.
- A 10-year program to boost sewer main capacity by increasing the size of 1,733 feet of pipeline annually, starting in 2011, at a cost of $1,359,000 a year.
- A new loan program to help homeowners pay for repairs of their sewer laterals, at cost of $100,000 a year, as well as a new lateral inspection program at a cost of $71,800 a year.
Q16: Have all the sewer mains been inspected and scheduled for repair?
A. All the sewer mains have been inspected by video and smoke tested. Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District is the only sanitary agency in Marin County to do so. Although about 7 percent of the mains need replacement, the District will replace only seven-tenths of one percent with the current proposed five-year budget to lower costs. Although it will take 100 years to replace all the pipes at this rate, replacing all the pipes rapidly would be too costly.
Q17: How will the sewer mains be replaced?
A. Clay pipes will be replaced with modern HDPE pipe using a pipe-bursting method that will minimize the need to dig up the sewer lines. Direct burial my be utilized in certain projects as needed.
Q18: What is the current status of the new sewer lateral inspection program?
A. The program is still in its formative stages. The District is participating in a regional cooperative effort with other agencies to create a uniform inspection and repair program for Marin County. The program would be voluntary and would involve the sewer lateral, or side sewer, that extends from private property to the District’s sewer main in the middle of the street. If a particular lateral has already been inspected, and repaired if needed, there would be no need for an additional inspection, unless too much time has elapsed.
Q19: What is the typical cost to repair a sewer lateral?
A. About $6,000-$8,000, depending on where it is located and whether it is under pavement. It could be more or less depending on circumstances.
Q20: Why should sewer laterals be kept in good repair?
A. Improperly maintained sewer laterals can cause sewer spills or backups. They can also allow large amounts of stormwater to seep in through the soil causing high wastewater flow overloads in the treatment plant.
Q21: Is it more cost-effective to repair rather than replace sewer lines?
A. It is actually more costly to continue to repair lines that have reached the end of their useful life than to replace them with new lines made of improved materials less likely to develop problems that would result in spills.
Q22: What projects will involve pump stations and force mains?
A. These are the principal projects:
- Equipping of 25 pump stations with redundant alarms and level control systems at a cost of $220,500 a year.
- Replacement of aging portions of force mains at a cost of $178,000 a year.
Q23: What upgrades are planned for the treatment plant?
A. Rehabilitation of aging facilities to maintain treatment quality, meet new regulations, and avoid fines and work hazards will cost a total of $9,972,905, with $330,242 the first year.
Q24: Would increased use of solar power in the treatment plant help reduce energy cost and thus lower the cost of upgrading the plant?
A. No. The District’s large solar facility, the largest in Marin County provides all the plant’s needs. Increased amounts of solar power would not provide any savings.
Q25: What projects will involve the Reclamation Area?
A. Plans include a gradual increase of maintenance of the District’s Reclamation Area’s levees and Miller Creek maintenance at a cost of $145,162.
Q26: How much will be spent on general upgrades and repairs?
A. Proactive maintenance to avoid unexpected breakdowns and emergency repairs will cost $738,000 the first year.
Q27: What are the District’s plans for water recycling?
A. The District is working cooperatively with other agencies to expand use of recycled water for irrigation at a total cost of $3,433,000, with $135,000 the first year.
Q28: How has the District cut costs to minimize the size of the proposed rate increase?
A. The District staff has increased efficiency, reduced supply costs, cut energy use by taking advance of methane and solar alternatives and taken other steps. The District utilizes a very efficient cross trained workforce.
Q29: Can the District do anything about the cost of employee pension and health insurance?
A. Employee benefits, as well as salaries, are a cost of doing business. The District strives to keep employee costs as low as possible while also being able to retain good employees who work efficiently and effectively, which in the long run serves to keep overall costs lower than they would be otherwise. As a result the District has avoided costly fines, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Questions About the Process and Protesting Rates
Q30: How do I offer comments, ask questions or protest the proposed rates?
A. If you have questions or comments about the proposed sewer rate increase or wish to protest, you may:
- ADDRESS THE DISTRICT BOARD OF DIRECTORS at a formal public hearing on the proposed rates, to be held on Thursday, June 4 at 6:00 p.m. at the Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District, 300 Smith Ranch Road, San Rafael.
- PHONE THE DISTRICT office at 415-472-1734.
- SEND A FAX to 415-499-7715.
- SEND AN E-MAIL to firstname.lastname@example.org
- SEND MAIL to 300 Smith Ranch Road, San Rafael, CA 94903
Q31: If enough property owners protest the proposed rates, does that mean the rates would not be increased?
A. Yes. If written protests against the proposed sewer service charge rates are presented by a majority of owners of parcels affected, the District will not approve the charge.
Q32: What is the required form that protests must take?
A. Protests against the proposed rate increase must be submitted in writing, must identify the owner(s) of the property or properties for which the protest is entered, and be signed by the property owner.
Other Questions About District Policy and Operations
Q33: Do new homes and other new development pay a fee to connect to the sewer system?
A. Yes. The District has connection fees, which in-effect buy additional capacity in the treatment plant. The District is essentially built out and only in-fill development will occur in the future. For information about specific connection fees and policies, contact the District office.
Q34: Are District workers city, county or state employees?
A. No. They are employees of Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District, an independent special district.
Q35: What are the three types of wastewater treatment?
A. The three types of treatment offer increasingly more advanced treatment, beginning with primary (physical) and advancing through secondary (biological) and finally tertiary (physical and chemical).
Q36: What are the beneficial by-products of wastewater treatment?
A. Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District recycles water for use in wetlands ponds and for landscape irrigation. The District also takes methane gas from its process and generates electricity in a cogeneration plant.
Q37: How many households are in the District?
A. About 12,000.