Oxnard city officials say repeal of a recently passed wastewater rate hike will threaten badly needed repairs to the city’s infrastructure.
“We desperately need that income to pay our debt service and maintenance,” Mayor Pro-tem Carmen Ramirez explained.
“Not paying off the debt service will cause our credit rates to go up; we may not even be able to get credit,” said Ramirez, who has proposed a rate assistance program for some ratepayers.
“If we don’t get that money, it can’t come from the general fund; there’ll be further job cuts,” probably to public safety, Ramirez said. “So if we don’t get the rate hike, we are in deep financial trouble.”
An initiative to reverse the March 1 rate hike will be on the city’s Nov. 8 ballot. Spearheaded by Haas Automation comptroller Aaron Starr, it would restore wastewater rates to their previous amount.
More recently at the July 19 meeting councilmembers voted 5-0 to talk about a water rate hike in 90 days after more public outreach. Trash collection rates have so far been left as is.
Ramirez said she would not be opposed to borrowing the money if the wastewater rate hike is repealed, possibly through a revenue bond sale.
But Councilman Bryan MacDonald, who voted against the wastewater rate hike at Oxnard’s Jan. 27 City Council meeting, said he isn’t convinced a bond sale would be necessary.
MacDonald said the city should have been raising the rate in small amounts over the last several years, an approach he believes is still viable.
“If you do several rate hikes incrementally, that seems not to be a burden on the ratepayer,” MacDonald said.
Ramirez added that another concern is that if the sewer system fails, sewage will spill into the ocean, leading to fines from state and federal agencies as well as damaging the environment.
On May 11 residents got an example of what to expect will happen more often if repairs aren’t made to Oxnard’s aging manhole and wastewater piping system.
At 8:50 p.m., approximately 6,375 gallons of raw sewage were discharged onto city streets and into the storm drain catch basin near Etting and Olds roads.
Despite swift efforts by city crews, only about 600 gallons of the sewage was removed from the storm drain system.
About 5,775 gallons were released into the main sewer line at Pleasant Valley and Bard roads, which discharges waste into the Ormond Beach Wetlands.
“There’s overwhelming evidence the spill was caused by the crumbling, aging infrastructure,” said Interim Wastewater Division Manager Thien Ng.
Over the last 10 years, Oxnard has averaged about four spills a year throughout the 430 miles of sewer lines in the system, markedly lower than the state average of 13 per 100 miles, said wastewater collection supervisor Pete Martinez.
“I’ll say this: If we don’t rehabilitate all those sewer lines that are in poor condition, happening more and more often,” Ng said, adding that the department will be in a reactive mode for the near future.
Ng said that it will be frustrating not just for Oxnard staff but for all the various Activcounty and state agencies that have to be notified of spills.
“There are so many agencies we have to notify and send reports to based on results,” Ng said. “It’s not just us. We’re driving everybody crazy.”