Sewer rate hike advances

  • Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski

HILO — County Council members Wednesday held their noses and advanced a sewer rate hike few seemed to like, sending it to the council for two more votes.

The council Finance Committee unanimously advanced Bill 210 after throwing around possibilities for extending the hike from three-year increments to five years, or exploring other funding sources to help pay for sewer operations. That conversation will take place when the bill is next heard, after Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski checks back with the Environmental Management Commission.

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Several council members questioned the fairness of requiring a percentage of residents to shoulder the full costs of keeping the environment clean. About 20 percent to 30 percent of the island’s households are on a sewer system.

“I understand the necessity for it. I think we all agree having sewers is the preference for our environment,” said Council Chairman Aaron Chung of Hilo, who said he’s on a cesspool. “I can’t resolve in my mind the people who are on sewer systems and are protecting the environment have to pay for protecting the environment while the people who are on cesspools that don’t protect the environment don’t have to pay.”

“I truly believe protecting our shorelines is everybody’s responsibility but this fee is going to be on the backs of a very few,” said Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy.

Other council members pointed out that the sewer fees pay for operations of the existing sewer system, while other costs are paid by all taxpayers, such as for creating new sewer infrastructure.

“There is a sharing; it may not be equitable but there is a sharing,” Kucharski said. “I can’t say everything is going to be smelling roses.”

It’s a price worth paying, council members said.

“I’ve lived in a time in my life when every dollar matters,” said Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, saying she’s gotten calls from concerned constituents opposed to the rate hike. “However, I also want to recognize we’re living in the First World, and that’s two Starbucks coffees. … It hasn’t been a priority and we’ve gotten away with it a long time.”

Currently, $7.5 million of the $12.9 million operating 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 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. Septic haulers’ rates will also increase for those who have septic tanks pumped.

The fee hikes would bring in an extra $17 million over the three years. They would start March 1, if approved. Kucharski wants to add 10 new positions to maintain and manage existing and planned facilities.

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“If we don’t do something a little bit now, it’s going to be a lot later,” said Kohala Councilman Tim Richards. “If we distribute the cost over more people it’s going to be less per person.”

Hawaii County has by far the lowest sewer fees in the state, and they haven’t been raised since 2002, Kucharski said. The county is under a mandate to close its cesspools over the next 30 years.

  1. IRLOYAL January 10, 2019 5:12 am Reply

    Does the DWS publish their budget? I realize there are costs that increase, but just like any other government agency, they just expect manna from heaven and probably do not have any long range cost cutting plans. I get a kick out of this Statement

    “I understand the necessity for it. I think we all agree having sewers is the preference for our environment,” said Council Chairman Aaron Chung of Hilo, who said he’s on a cesspool. “I can’t resolve in my mind the people who are on sewer systems and are protecting the environment have to pay for protecting the environment while the people who are on cesspools that don’t protect the environment don’t have to pay.”

    Well, why doesn’t Chairman Chung do the right thing and convert his cesspool to a proper septic system or pony-up his neighborhood to get connected to a waste treatment system? That has been mandated to be completed by 2030 and now is his chance to make that expenditure.


  2. Buds4All January 10, 2019 5:23 am Reply

    I am going to start hopping my back wall there is 20+ hectors back there and did a hole and start taking my shits out there!


  3. 4whatitsworth January 10, 2019 8:55 am Reply

    Managing poop is an essential service, everyone uses this government benefit. Why is it not funded 100% by the general fund like the social services are?

    In the long run I think the government strategy is to charge us for everything that we use, and tax us for everything we don’t need or want.


  4. diverdave January 10, 2019 9:02 am Reply

    Tax and spend. Tax and spend.


  5. Mike Lumi January 10, 2019 1:44 pm Reply

    Hey, Does that mean the County will pay for my pumping fees too??


  6. LOL in Kona January 11, 2019 6:17 am Reply

    Yep,
    they needs the moola for the “leeches, loafers and druggies”
    …have you seen their “houses”
    ……which they wouldn’t go near
    So make the people who actually work pay more! more! more!


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