In Carson City Public Works’ effort to expand the city sewer to a portion of southeast Carson, Board of Supervisors found themselves Thursday balancing public health with the financial hardship posed on property owners.
“We’ll be continually looking for ways to help you,” Mayor Lori Bagwell told affected residents in the audience.
After public testimony, supervisors unanimously approved a resolution waiving sewer connection fees and related permit and inspection fees for property owners who abandon septic tanks and hook up to the expanding city sewer. The incentive period was set at 48 months after property owners receive notices of availability of city sewer. The deadline for connection was also set at 48 months.
Elevated nitrate levels in city wells in the area are being attributed to high-density septic systems permeating groundwater over several decades. City Engineer Randall Rice told the Appeal the city still has more than a year of design and construction extending sewer lines to an area around Gentry Lane. According to Public Works, the first phase would affect 32 homes. More than 100 homes could be affected when future phases are considered.
Rice said notices of sewer availability could arrive in 2025, effectively giving residents to 2029 to convert septic systems to city sewer.
According to Rice, the state’s maximum allowance for nitrates is 10 milligrams per liter; less than 5 milligrams per liter is the city’s goal. A 2022 study conducted by Farr West Engineering acknowledged historically high nitrate levels in the area as documented in the 1990s. Graphs from the study show two city wells in the area exceeding 5 milligrams per liter several times in the last decade.
“If levels exceed 5 mg/L, sampling frequency is increased to three times per week. If levels exceed 8 mg/L, the water will be pumped to waste until levels drop below 8 mg/L. These requirements make operation of the wells difficult, costly, and time intensive. This also greatly impacts the reliability of the water source,” reads the Farr West study.
Supervisor Maurice White and some residents expressed skepticism about the results, wondering if agricultural operations at the nearby Northern Nevada Correctional Center were to blame. Rice, however, maintained the reports pointing to septic systems are valid.
Residents weren’t necessarily opposed to the connection — praising Public Works for reaching out and working with property owners — but they did want help with the costs of conversion.
Incentive periods for prior phases of sewer expansion lasted 24 months, according to staff, and supervisors doubled that Thursday. Supervisors also amended the resolution to allow property owners who can’t tap into a gravity-fed sewer system — exempt from septic conversion under existing code — an additional 24 months should state regulations change.
Scott Sisco, a resident of Ethel Way since 1992, spoke during public comment on behalf of many affected residents and asked for a five-year incentive period and a monthly credit on subsequent sewer bills to offset costs of conversion. He argued many residents in the area are retired and on fixed incomes.
“We didn’t cause it, we just bought the houses,” Sisco said of the nitrate problem.
Of the conversion, he said, “It’s a lot of money involved for us, and we’re being hit pretty hard on this.”
According to a staff report, the current sewer connection fee for a household is $4,906.85. For 32 homes, the city would lose approximately $157,019 in revenue by waiving the connection fees.
Adding to the challenge of conversion is the topography of the area. Sisco told the Appeal a septic-to-sewer conversion could run between $5,000 and $20,000 for a homeowner.
Rice gave the Appeal a similar figure.
“Homeowner costs to construct their line and abandon their septic system are expected to average between $10,000 and $20,000,” Rice said. “Depth of the sewer main, length of pipe to construct, and extent of existing improvements are all big factors that make the cost vary greatly between properties; some homes may cost less, and some homes may cost more.”
“We understand there is a high cost to this process,” Rice added Thursday.
Bagwell said residents who connected to sewer in the past did receive fee waivers but not bill credits as proposed by Sisco. Bagwell and other supervisors said they would continue to look for other ways to help residents with financing.
In other action:
• Supervisors unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance repealing chapter 17.10 of municipal code that governs common open space development.
The repeal stems from the joint meeting between supervisors and planning commissioners on March 3 during which consensus was reached the chapter is no longer desired.
“It’s time for 17.10 to not exist anymore,” Supervisor Stacey Giomi said Thursday.
The section of code has been used in past developments, like the Andersen Ranch subdivision east of Ormsby Boulevard.
Some from the development community spoke out against the repeal. Mike Railey of Christy Corp., said there are flaws in 17.10, but it could be amended and used as a tool for small infill projects.
Mark Turner of Silver Oak Development said the land entitlement process in the city has been like “running the gauntlet” in recent years due to political conflict. He agreed the code could be a useful tool for infill projects.
“I’m glad we’re finally getting rid of this piece of ordinance which has been a terrible thing for Carson City,” said resident Maxine Nietz.
According to planning staff, the proposed Andersen West Project, west of Ormsby Boulevard, was filed before the code repeal and will be assessed under the previously existing 17.10. The project was expected to appear before planning commissioners March 29 but has been delayed and will likely appear at the April meeting.
Any 17.10 projects filed after March 3 will be not considered, according to the Community Development department.
• Supervisors unanimously approved a proposed draft of the Mills Park Master Plan, including a connector road between Seely Loop and Oxoby Loop that Parks and Recreation commissioners had some reservations about at their February meeting.
Some parks commissioners worried the connection would generate too much through-traffic. Parks staff proposed traffic-calming measures and emphasized the road’s importance for public safety. Supervisor Lisa Schuette, who sits on the parks commission, was hopeful Thursday staff would work on making the road reflect the park.
Other projects included in the Mills Park Master Plan are a splash park, new playground, expansion of the existing skate park and a designated dog park.
• Supervisors amended their dog policy to include Mills Park as on-leash and the future dog park there as off-leash when it’s constructed. They also included Steinheimer Park as off-leash.
White voted against the measure, criticizing the policy in general.
“There is an overarching issue with this entire policy in that it is not simple and easy to understand,” he said.
Schuette responded that adjustments early on for a new policy can be appropriate.
• Supervisors voted to authorize the district attorney’s office to challenge a Feb. 7 arbitration award in favor of the Carson City Sheriff’s Deputies Association.
According to staff report, the arbitration stemmed from a grievance filed by the association that “ostensibly stemmed from the decision of CCSO not to promote a deputy sheriff (the grievant) to the position of sergeant.”
No one spoke during public comment. Supervisors supported the legal challenge unanimously. Sheriff Ken Furlong referred the Appeal’s request for comment to the district attorney’s office. The latter could not be reached for comment before the Appeal’s print deadline.