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Council Weighs Fees for Sewer Repair : Backers See 'Unsanitary Conditions, Chaos' in Long Beach Without Funds

August 18, 1988|ROXANA KOPETMAN | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — City Council members leaned back in their chairs and watched a movie earlier this week. But the flick was too gruesome for popcorn. It featured the city's sewers.

After viewing globs of grease and other matter oozing through crumbling pipelines, the officials agreed to consider new fees to fix a deteriorated sewer system.

If approved, the fee would cost the average homeowner $2.10 monthly.

The fees for businesses would depend partly on the amount of water used. A grocery store would pay an estimated $21.20 a month, for example, while a self-service laundry would pay $264.40, Halcyon Ball, president the Long Beach Board of Water Commissioners, said in a memo to the council. The commissioners recommended the new fees.

Charge for Developers

Developers of new structures would face a one-time charge of $45 for each fixture, such as toilets, showers and sinks.

The new fees would most likely be added to the water, gas and refuse bill, said Larry Larson, general manager of the city's water department.

The council scheduled a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 30 in the council chambers. But some members left little doubt that they plan to support the new fees.

"Obviously, nobody wants any more taxes," Vice Mayor Wallace Edgerton said. But to vote against the new fees would mean "unsanitary conditions and chaos," he said.

Councilman Jeff Kellogg said he wants to hear from the public, but added, "I don't want to sit there and wait" for the sewers to deteriorate further.

Passage Predicted

"I think everyone realizes the dangers from a health standpoint. There will be questions, yeah, but it's going to pass," Kellogg said before the council meeting.

Councilman Warren Harwood said he also wants to hear from the public "and see if anybody has a better way to deal with the problem. But I am satisfied that there is a serious problem and we'll have to spend more money later if we don't fix the sewers now." Long Beach has 760 miles of sewers. Although many sewers were built about 75 years ago, few have been replaced, Larson said. It will cost about $85 million to modernize the system, which is also overburdened by the city's growing population.

"If we had waited longer, we would be in a serious problem indeed," City Manager James Hankla told the council. He then added that some people believe the city already has waited too long.

Larson, for one, believes the city should act quickly.

"The system is valued at over $600 million. You wouldn't have something valued that much and not pay any maintenance for it. That's like having a BMW and not putting any oil in it," Larson said after the council's meeting.

Years of neglect have resulted in deteriorated pipes, and it will cost at least $4.4 million each year to maintain and improve the sewers, according to a report prepared by Larson. A total of $2 million was allocated this fiscal year for the operation of the system.

Breaks Undetected

Often, sewer breaks go undetected for long periods, Larson said after the meeting. Parts of a pipeline running through Broadway, for example, deteriorated years ago and now "there is a hole in the ground" with sewage running through dirt before it reaches another pipe, he said.

Workers have repaired 2,000 feet of sewer mains on Broadway, and the council Tuesday approved another $460,000 to pay for replacing another 3,000 feet.

Sewage that has leaked into the ground does not threaten drinking water, according to Larson. But if it is allowed to continue seeping into the soil, it could pose future sanitary problems, he said.

The city has been using money from its general fund to pay for sewerage system maintenance. Sewer users also pay an annual fee, through their property tax bills, to the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County. The money pays for the operation of trunk sewers and treatment plants. (The city's sewers transport waste to the various trunk sewers, which carry the sewage to the districts' treatment plants, Larson said. Long Beach does not operate treatment facilities.)

The fee to the county's sanitation districts is $40 for a single-family residence. It varies for commercial and industrial users.

The proposed fees would be lower than those in surrounding municipalities, according to a city survey. Los Angeles, for example, charges homeowners $7.14 monthly while Compton charges $6.59 and Inglewood charges $2.70.

PROPOSED LONG BEACH SEWER USAGE RATESThe following examples show the effect of the various rates and charges on some typical users:

--Cost for an average single-family residence would be $2.10 per month.

--Cost for a grocery store using 12,500 cubic feet of water would be $21.20 per month.

--Cost for a 134-unit apartment building using 59,000 cubic feet of water would be $87.50 per month.

--Cost for a laundry using 211,900 cubic feet of water would be $264.40 per month.

--A one-time charge for a new hotel with 6,001 fixtures such as toilets and sinks would be $270,045.

--A one-time charge for a new office building with 239 fixtures would be $10,755.

--A one-time charge for a new 10-unit apartment building with 140 fixtures would be $6,300.

Source: City of Long Beach

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