City passes water/sewer franchise fee

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Carson City residents will see an extra charge on their September sewer and water bills -- a 1 percent franchise fee Carson City supervisors banked on to help balance this year's city budget.

The average sewer and water bill in the capital is $56.25, and the fee will cost utility users about 56 cents a month, or $6.72 a year. The fee hike is the first in a line of utility fees increases anticipated in coming months.

Mayor Ray Masayko cast the lone vote Thursday against enacting the franchise fee, as city supervisors approved the increase that will raise approximately $90,000 for the city's general fund.

City supervisors in March balanced their $45 million budget on $410,000 of anticipated rate hikes to electric, gas and water and sewer rates. Masayko voted against the budget measure then and Thursday because city officials "had not looked hard enough" to see where they could cut spending before enacting pass-through taxes, he said.

Larry Osborne, chief executive officer of the Carson City Area Chamber of Commerce, complained the rates were unnecessary and a burden on businesses and city residents in already tough economic times, especially in light of further potential rate increases.

Supervisor Robin Williamson said despite the possibility of increasing rates on everything from water to electricity, until supervisors decide on the rates, "they don't mean anything."

Higher fees -- all of which supervisors have not considered -- coming down the pike may include:

-- On Sept. 5, city supervisors will consider a 1/2 percent increase to franchise fees to both power and gas bills. In April, Sierra Pacific Power Co. and Southwest Gas spokesmen said the direct, pass-through tax would cost roughly 39 cents a month extra on each bill.

-- The city's storm drainage advisory committee recently recommended a plan that will charge most Carson residents about $3.43 a month to fund a $20 million storm drainage system.

However, the charge will be higher -- in some cases in the thousands of dollars -- for businesses with buildings and parking lots. It will cost between $1.3 million and $1.4 million a year to construct the storm drainage system, which has been planned since the 1997 flood, in 12 to 18 years.

The $3.43 charge defines the basic unit of storm drain charges, one home with roughly 3,600-square feet of impervious surface from the patio to the driveway. Businesses will be charged $3.43 per 3,600-square-feet of space covered with concrete, buildings and asphalt.

-- A city committee is conducting the city's first sewer and water rate study in 12 years, which could lead to the city's first utility rate hike in seven years. There are no estimates as to what the potential hike could be.

-- City Manager John Berkich ordered city community development officials to hold off for 60 to 90 days preparing for a potential increase of planning fees. A review of Carson City's planning fees shows the community development department only recoups $37,000 of the $865,000 it costs the department to process everything from special use permits to subdivision maps. A study of fee-related services shows Carson City taxpayer dollars subsidize a variety of development permits between 95 percent and 100 percent.

A plan which would have over time raised planning fees as much as 95 percent -- and would garner an estimated $300,000 to city coffers -- drew complaints from the development community. Berkich said while "arguably, development hasn't been paying its fair share of these costs," he is concerned about the effect such a drastic fee increase could have on economic development.

"We're trying to create an incentive for economic development," he said. "We're sensitive to the message this would send."


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