Kurt Hildebrand

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September 1, 2014
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County plans utility rate increase

Customers of Douglas County’s water and sewer utilities are facing rate increases up for discussion by county commissioners on Thursday.

While the water rate increase was reduced, sewer rates are set to go up 3.25 percent a year for five years until 2019.

The rate increases are designed to help pay for system reinvestment.

According to the county, the 2.6 percent per year water rate increase would cost an average of $64.89 a month. That bill would be higher in the summer and lower in the winter. With no other adjustments to the rate, by July 1, 2018, that average would rise to $71.91.

The county’s water system serves 2,440 homes and businesses. As recently as six years ago an average water user was paying $32 a month in the East Valley and $35 a month in the West Valley.

While willing to budge on water rates, county commissioners were firm on a 3.25-percent sewer rate increase.

If approved on Thursday, sewer rates for county customers would rise to $63.43 a month, increasing to $72.08 a month on July 1, 2018.

The North Valley Wastewater Treatment Plant is running at around 80 percent capacity, according to Public Works Director Carl Ruschmeyer.

At 85 percent the plant will have to expand. Over the next year the county is required to have the plant capacity analyzed.

“We’re very close if not at the point,” Ruschmeyer told county commissioners at a July meeting. “If we’re close to capacity they will ask, ‘what is your plan to expand?’”

Ruschmeyer said plant expansion is required for solids disposal and substantial improvement to the headworks.

He said part of the issue is that Douglas never built the Phase II expansion of the plant in 2008, which would have cost $5 million. The phase that was completed cost just under $1 million and held the plant for six years.

Adding to the uncertainty is the possibility that there are an estimated 971 homes on septic tanks in the Johnson Lane area, which may be required to hook up to the sewer system due to nitrate contamination. A study prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey estimates all homes in Johnson Lane will be connected to sewer by 2030.

“At some point it’s possible the state will come to us and say, ‘you’ve got to put these people on sewer,’” Commissioner Nancy McDermid said at the July meeting. We’re sticking our heads in the sand if we don’t look at this issue. If we could increase septic capacity so septic users could connect the expansion cost could be spread out.”

Ruschmeyer said the plant expansion is for more than additional capacity.

The North Valley plant serves about 1,700 customers in Carson Valley. Most people who receive sewer service in the Valley get it from the Minden-Gardnerville Sanitation District in Minden. Indian Hills residents are served by the sewer plant operated by the their general improvement district. The remainder of Douglas County residents are on septic tanks.

The North Valley plant underwent substantial expansion in 2007 in anticipation of construction in the Johnson Lane area. Most utilities use connection fees to pay for expansions to serve additional customers, while user fees pay to operate and maintain the utility.

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The Record Courier Updated Sep 1, 2014 10:53AM Published Sep 1, 2014 01:04PM Copyright 2014 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.