The East Palo Alto Sanitary District, which already has raised residential sewer rates by 25 percent over the last four years, may continue hiking them each year until 2017.

And if the district's board of directors follows the suggestion of Berkeley-based consulting firm Bartle Wells Associates, it would annually increase the rates $20 to $35 per household.

That's how much would be needed to cover pending expenses such as a $16 million contribution for improvements to the Regional Water Quality Control Plant in Palo Alto that the district uses, consultant Alex Handlers told directors at a Jan. 24 meeting on a five-year financial plan Bartle Wells Associates developed for the district.

East Palo Alto households now pay $520 for sewage service, or 25 percent more than the $415 paid in 2008, according to district documents. If the board chooses to go with the highest suggested increase of $35 per year, the annual rate would reach $695 by 2017. That would amount to a 67 percent hike over a nine-year period.

The East Palo Alto Sanitary District has "healthy" reserves, Bartle Wells' study found. It began the fiscal year with $9.2 million in reserves and a budget of about $4.6 million.

If the board decides to increase the sewage rates, it must notify residents and hold a hearing, Handlers said, suggesting a timeline that would lead to adoption of new rates by June.


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Director Joan Sykes-Miessi, who was president of the board at the Jan. 24 meeting, said then that further discussions of possible rate increases should wait until the district gets a new general manager.

The district has been without one since the Dec. 28 retirement of Lee Hawkins, who held the position from 1987 to 1994 and then from 2004 to 2012. According to a memo to the board, Hawkins made an annual salary of $191,630.

District Office Manager Rodney Royce said three of the five board directors voted on Jan. 24 to approve a contract agreement to hire former district employee Karen Maxey as interim general manager, at a rate of $87 per hour.

The board also hired a search firm, Sacramento-based CPS HR Consulting, to recruit a permanent replacement. The firm will be paid $15,500 plus reimbursable expenses up to $6,000, according to district documents.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Royce said he has "no idea" when Maxey's contract would start. He referred additional questions to the board's new president, Goro Mitchell, who did not respond to calls and emails Tuesday and Wednesday.

Email Bonnie Eslinger at beslinger @dailynewsgroup.com; follow her at twitter.com/bonnieeslinger.