Redwood City land owners could soon see their sewer service charges moved to their biannual property tax bill, a move some residents say is an unnecessary complication of the city’s current system.
“Financially for me I’m in position that it’s not going to affect me but there’s a lot of older people living here who are not even aware of it and it would be much easier for them to continue paying their bill every month like they have,” Carolyn Shores, a Redwood City homeowner living in the Mt. Carmel area, said.
On Monday, the City Council will take up the issue of whether to shift the city’s current sewage service billing model, which charges users every two months, to a biannual model that would pair sewer charges with the property tax cycle.
Doing so would make the county responsible for billing, a service that would cost the city roughly $19,300 annually.
The change would only apply to 13,583 parcels with single-family units on them, all facing fixed sewer rates of $89.28 a month starting July 1. Transitioning multidwelling properties and commercial lots to the model will likely take up to two more years because charges are based on use instead of a fixed rate, said Terence Kyaw, director of the Public Works Service Department.
Kyaw said the change is part of long-term plans to improve the Silicon Valley Clean Water facility and the city’s sewage infrastructure, both more than 50 years old. As the largest member of the sewage treatment plant joint powers authority, Redwood City will be responsible for covering roughly half of the $550 million improvements.
Shifting to the new model would reflect a steady revenue stream of about $14.5 million a year, improving the city’s chances of receiving bonds with lower interest rates and ultimately saving residents money, Kyaw said.
“The bigger picture we’re trying to achieve is minimizing future rate increases,” he said.
He noted the change from a city run billing cycle would also free up staff time, aligning with the city’s goal to “reimagine service delivery” after pandemic-induced financial strain. Because sewer services are still processed with water and garbage services at this point, Kyaw said it’s unclear how much saving in staff time the city will see with the shift.
Jerry Rexroth, a Redwood City resident of 40 years and owner of three properties in the city, said he strongly opposes the change. Every six months he pays the property taxes for his properties and his tenants are responsible for covering their own utilities including sewage service charges.
The shift would put Rexroth in charge of collecting sewage fees from his tenants, potentially causing him to either collect between $500 and $600 of additional funds every six months or front the money himself.
“It seems to be more complicated than it should be,” he said. “It just opens up the door to many problems.”
The current billing system also allows residents to budget for their charges, Rexroth and Shores said. While property taxes have remained fairly predictable and therefore easy to plan for, sewage rates are based on usage and fluctuate.
Shores said the change could also weigh heavy on seniors, many living on fixed incomes. It could also be a strain on those who will have to budget for the unknown final charge.
Shores, an owner of two residential properties in the city, also shared concern for residents who still may not be aware of the change by the time the next property tax billing cycle arrives. If the measure receives council approval, the billing change will take effect June 30 with charges from the next six months being posted in December.
“There’s going to be a lot of surprised homeowners,” Shores said. “I think you’re going to have a lot of unhappy people.”
Shores and Rexroth said they were only made aware of the proposed change after receiving an information mailer from the city a week ago. They raised concerns many less attentive residents may have missed the notice and suggested the city was trying to sneak the change past the public’s attention.
Kyaw said the city did it’s best to inform the public of the change. In addition to the mailers, the city posted notices in the Daily Journal, on social media platforms and in the “The Pilot,” a Redwood Shores neighborhood newsletter.
Staff also met with the public through four homeowner and neighborhood association meetings and two virtual community outreach events, Kyaw said. Admittedly, turnout was low with up to 12 participants, he said, noting most participants shared support for the billing switch.
To date, about 20 community protests have been submitted. To stop the city from implementing the changes without council intervention, more than 6,790 property owners who would be affected by the change would have to submit protests.
Kyaw said the council could also object to the measure completely or direct him to make changes, a scenario in which the residents said they have little faith.
Recognizing community concerns, Kyaw said he is hopeful residents will quickly adapt to the new model which is used in 10 other Peninsula cities. He noted qualifying residents will also still have access to the city’s Water and Sewer Rate Assistance Program.
The City Council will meet remotely via Zoom at 6 p.m. Monday, June 14, and will be streamed live at www.redwoodcity.org and on Comcast Channel 27 and AT&T U-verse Channel 99. Remote public comments will be received by telephone during the meeting, prior to the close of public comment on an item. *67 (669) 900-6833, Meeting ID: 994 8182 5639.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106