Placer supes approve $13.78-a-month North Auburn sewer fee hike

Stormy session ends with board renewing support for regional pipeline
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Sewer users in the North Auburn area will be paying another $13.78 a month starting in July, Placer County supervisors decided Tuesday.

The decision followed a sometimes-stormy, three-hour hearing before a standing-room only crowd composed mostly of residents of Sewer Maintenance District No. 1 opposed to the hike.

The increase boosts the monthly rate from $82 a month to $95.78. It’s being implemented to fund a $76 million regional pipeline link between the North Auburn district and Lincoln’s plant. The work includes a 13-mile pipeline, new pump station in North Auburn and expansion of the Lincoln plant.

The vote was 3-2 after about 25 speakers voiced their opposition and five speakers - including Lincoln city councilman Spencer Short and and Mayor Stan Nader - stated their support.

Voting for the increase were Supervisors Jennifer Montgomery, Robert Weygandt and Jack Duran. Voting against were Supervisors Kirk Uhler and Jim Holmes. The vote was the same as one in March 2013 - which followed an equally contentious series of meetings - that allowed a pipeline proposal that had won county favor a decade earlier but not a firm commitment until then.

The mood of Tuesday’s meeting turned ugly when Duran and Holmes sparred over the project after the board heard from several speakers, many of them elderly, who said that the increase would have a severe economic impact.

“Let me ask the board, what is the benefit people receive? Robert, Supervisor Duran can you tell me the benefit the retired people of North Auburn, the low-income people of North Auburn, what is the benefit do these people receive out of building the pipeline?” Holmes asked.

“Supervisor, I’m extremely disappointed at that question because that’s a question...” Duran said, before his voice was drowned out by protesting audience members.

“Supervisors are telling me the people I represent, the people I’ve gone to school with,” Holmes said. “The people I’ve worked for...”

The room of about 100 erupted in angry words from the crowd for a few seconds before the two were allowed to continue.

“I’ve been on the downside of votes many times,” Duran said. “The difference between you and I is that I move on. I say what I have to say. The board’s made a decision and if you don’t like that decision I understand that.”

“I still don’t understand what the benefit is,” Holmes said.

Holmes, who supported rebuilding the current Joeger Road facility at a cost of $62.3 million, was backed by several speakers supporting the upgrade. Uhler had supported a third proposal with a similar cost to the upgrade that involved a private firm building and operating the plant.

Duran, Montgomery and Weygandt all said the decision on the pipeline was made 14 months ago and that their backing continued to be based on the belief that federal and state mandates on water quality would continue to require costlier fixes that could be partly absorbed by a regional plant.

“For me, actually, it’s an easy decision, a regional decision,” Weygandt said. “Really it boils down to there is no question we’ve had alternatives that would have resulted in cheaper rates but I’m convinced there will be much more expensive rates in the future and there is no expectation that will change.”

Before the vote, the final count on a protest vote was announced. Clerk of the Board Ann Holman said that 530 dwelling units submitted a vote against the fee increase. A total of 3,930 votes against were needed to reach the majority threshold and defeat the fee increase. The district has just under 8,000 dwelling units and includes Christian Valley, Bowman and the city of Auburn-owned Municipal Airport.

After the meeting, fee increase opponent Cecil Price of North Auburn said that a group formed against the proposal would examine its options - including a potential initiative drive under Proposition 218. Supervisors were told by staff that the increase would start to take effect July 1.

At the meeting, opponents like 96-year-old Violet Webb had said the increase on top of previous increases for sewer had placed an undue financial burden on her and others on fixed incomes. Mayor Stan Nader of Lincoln said the board should be complimented for its commitment and courage to honor a longstanding decision that makes sense economically.

“I applaud you for staying the course,” Nader said.