Thursday, May 19, 2005

Sewer fee hike
forecast climbs

City officials say a lawsuit could
extend increases for 10 years

Residents may see 10 years of sewer fee hikes -- four years longer than originally proposed -- resulting in a 154 percent increase in average monthly bills.


Average single-family monthly sewer bill under increases proposed by the city administration.
2005   $33.05
2006   $41.31
2007   $45.44
2008   $49.99
2009   $54.99
2010   $60.49
2011   $66.54
2012   $73.19
2013   $77.58
2014   $80.68
2015   $83.91

Mayor Mufi Hannemann has already proposed increasing sewer fees for the next six years -- 25 percent beginning July 1, and then 10 percent for each of the following five fiscal years to 2011.

Now the administration is projecting a need to increase fees further, to between 4 percent and 10 percent each year through 2015.

According to city documents, the average monthly sewer fee of $33.05 will be going up to $41.31 next fiscal year. During the sixth year of the fee hike, the rate will go up to $66.54, and by the 10th year, the fee will hit $83.91.

Revenues generated from the hikes will come to just under $152 million next year, nearly doubling 10 years later to $314 million.

Eric Takamura, director of the Department of Environmental Services, said there are a number of factors leading to the extended fee hikes, including higher construction costs for sewer system upgrades and maintenance, and the mounting debt the city will be required to pay in financing sewer projects.

"The debt service is just increasing," Takamura said.

The city will be required to pay off $46 million in debt next year, and that amount balloons to $151 million in 10 years.

Takamura said a pending lawsuit filed against the city by the Sierra Club could affect future projections of whether sewer fees need to be increased further.

He said one of the biggest issues is whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will require the city to upgrade treatment of its wastewater at the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment plant to more costly secondary disinfection.

"That's why it's so critical, with the Sierra Club lawsuit and the EPA decision, how it will affect our 20-year (construction) program," Takamura said.

Also being proposed is a yearly increase to the fee charged to connect newly constructed homes to the city's sewer system. The wastewater system facility charge is proposed to go up 3 percent each year for the next 10 years. The charge will be $4,780 next year, and by 2015 will reach $6,236.

City Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi said she was surprised to hear that the sewer fee hikes would continue beyond the original six-year proposal by the administration.

"There's so much repair having to be done," Kobayashi said.

The fee increases will go a long way toward replenishing the sewer fund, which was drained by former Mayor Jeremy Harris' administration, she said.

"We just hope the health of the sewer fund will grow. There are a lot of new homes being built, so there will be more people paying into the sewer fund," Kobayashi said. "(The fee increases) are projections, and I'm hoping there will be an end. ... As long as you don't raid the sewer fund, the money will stay in there."

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