HILO — Sewer fees will almost double over the next three years if the County Council agrees with a rate plan submitted by the Department of Environmental Management.
The current $27 monthly fee for single family and multi-family residential units would increase to $39 monthly on March 1, $46 monthly in 2020 and $52 monthly in 2021, under the plan. Nonresidential rates would increase from $22 monthly to $50 monthly March 1 to $59 monthly in 2020 and $66 monthly in 2021.
Sewer rates have not increased since 2002.
Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski is trying to make the sewer program self-sufficient, so it pays for itself through user fees rather than relying so heavily on the general fund, which comes primarily from property taxes.
Currently, $7.5 million of the $12.9 million budget for sewers comes from user fees. About $3 million comes from the general fund and the rest is made up with fund balance and reserves, according to county budget documents.
“The requested increases seek to eliminate the general fund subsidy, over time, and to increase funding for much needed facility repairs,” Kucharski said in an Oct. 25 request to the council. “Because the needed increases are substantial, the rate increases proposed are being phased in over a three year period.”
The County Council Finance Committee is scheduled to discuss the fee hikes, Bill 210, at 10:30 a.m. Monday at the West Hawaii Civic Center. The public can also participate via videoconference from Hilo council chambers, Waimea and Pahoa council offices, the old Kohala courthouse and the Naalehu state office building.
Among the other increases, the nonresidential monthly charge for every 1,000 gallons over the first 8,000 gallons would increase from the current $4.05 to $6.05, $7.15 and $8 during the same time period. And the discharge fee for private haulers for a 500 gallon load or fraction thereof would go from $30 to $45 to $55 to $60.
Rates for those connected to a gang cesspool will also increase, although those facilities are planned to be phased out as new sewer systems are constructed. Gang cesspool fees won’t increase next year from the current $15 a month. But they’re scheduled to go up to $21 in 2020 and $24 in 2021.
Naalehu resident Jerry Warren, who’s been fighting sewer fees for the gang system he’s on, said he’s likely to attend the meeting in either Hilo or Kona.
Warren said he has a 2004 letter signed by the mayor saying residents on the gang sewer won’t have to pay until a new system is installed. The county is under a consent order with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to close the system down.
Warren said he started receiving bills in 2010 and has been called to court four times for his refusal to pay.
“It’s extortion,” Warren said. “Why should I pay for an illegal system?”