The Burlingame City Council this week unanimously approved sewer rate increases for residents, with a 9% increase to take place each year for the next three years, beginning in 2022.

The increase is needed to pay for repairs and improvements to sewage infrastructure, according to a report from the Department of Public Works. Sewer rates have not increased in the city since 2012, though water rates, which are billed together with sewer costs, increased in 2019.

“It never pleases me to make a motion to raise rates, but this is absolutely the right thing to do,” said Councilmember Michael Brownrigg.

Ratepayers in the city currently pay less than most others in the county for the two services, with a median monthly cost of $140 for a single-family home compared with the county median of $173.90. Burlingame residents are billed for the services once every two months.

The sewage portion of that equation, roughly $50 per month, is among the least expensive in the county, with only three agencies charging less out of 19 agencies providing the service countywide. Two of the agencies charging less subsidize the cost with property taxes, something Burlingame does not do.

A Burlingame ratepayer paying the median sewage cost would see their total monthly cost increase by roughly $4.50 each year, for a total increase of $14.75 per month by 2024. Water rates will not increase.

“I would much rather pay $60 more [per year], that’s good value for making sure our sewers aren’t exploding and things are working properly,” said Councilmember Emily Beach.

The sewer system in Burlingame consists of approximately 100 miles of pipelines, seven pump stations and a water treatment plant facility. The majority of pipelines are 70 to 100 years old and the treatment plant is 80 years old, said Public Works Director Syed Murtuza.

“They have served beyond their intended useful life,” said Murtuza. “Although the city has been proactively replacing this aging infrastructure for more than a decade, there is still a substation backlog.”

Murtuza said $137 million worth of work is required on the system between now and 2040. High priority work needed in the next five years accounts for $63 million of that figure.

Per California Proposition 218, property owners were mailed notices of the rate increase 45 days prior to this week’s public hearing on the matter. To bar the city from enacting a rate increase, at least half of the city’s 8,201 ratepayers would have needed to protest the increase. The city received nine protests, according to Murtuza.

In a related matter, Brownrigg said he would like to see a discussion surrounding switching from bimonthly billing to once a month billing for water and sewer charges.

“I think having big bills come every two months as opposed to a smaller bill every month is actually harder for people on a fixed income to manage,” Brownrigg said.

Finance Director Helen Yu-Scott said the current arrangement was made to reduce staffing costs associated with meter checking as well as mailing costs for bills. 

Vice Mayor Ricardo Ortiz and Councilmember Donna Colson agreed that the issue should be looked into at a later date.

(650) 344-5200, ext. 105

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(1) comment

Terence Y

One has to wonder how much of this increase is going to fund increased labor wages. Of course, this is Burlingame so perhaps a majority of homeowners don’t care, as evidenced by the number of folks protesting the increase (assuming they actual did receive notice). But renters… you may want to budget for a larger than anticipated rent increase.

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