Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat

PUBLIC MEETING: Calaveras County Water District, 9 a.m. Wednesday, district board room, 423 E. St. Charles St., San Andreas.

Calaveras County's largest water and sewer provider is expected to increase its rates on a five-year plan to fund infrastructure improvements.

Calaveras County Water District General Manager Mitch Dion said Monday the board's finance committee, consisting of directors Bob Dean and Scott Ratterman, has recommended a plan with the highest increases, 15 to 20 percent on monthly sewer bills and 20 percent for water, "front loaded" in the first year before gradually tapering down to 6 percent in the final two years.

The district needs to fund about $40 million to $45 million in improvements, Dion said.

The highest sewer system priority is to upgrade pumps and additional storage near Tulloch Reservoir in Copperopolis, he said. The district has 31 lift stations in the area and deterioration, if left unchecked, may lead to spills affecting the reservoir and hefty accompanying fines, Dion said.

The water system is plagued by undersized and inadequate lines, mostly dating back to the 1970s and in upcountry territory, designed for vacation homes that are increasingly utilized full-time, he said.

The district has had reviews of its rates and future infrastructure improvement, operations and maintenance needs from consultants in recent months and its Board of Directors heard different scenarios for rate increases at its April 10 meeting.

The finance committee chose an option that limits long-term debt taken on by the district to fund the improvements, Dion said.

"The focus of the district is to hold our O&M (operations and maintenance) costs flat even as costs rise," he said. "The increases are strictly for capital improvements."

Dion said initial public reactions have been sympathetic to the infrastructure improvement needs "but obviously no one is happy about these kinds of rate increases."

The district now bills on a bi-monthly basis, charging $135 for sewer and $79 for water on standard residential meters.

In addition to setting a public hearing on proposed increases, the board must initiate a Proposition 218 balloting process, in which a majority of ratepayers' protest can halt the proposed rate hikes.

In other business, the board is expected to accept an engineering report that will allow for creation of an assessment district to fund upgrades to the Fly-In Acres water system near Arnold. At the request of the private Fly-In Acres Mutual Water Co., the district has studied and considered incorporating the system serving 185 homes. The report from Weber, Ghio and Associates of San Andreas places costs of upgrading and incorporating the system at $3,316,222, to be paid as a 25- to 30-year bond assessment by homeowners. The board will also count a ballot of the affected homeowners. A majority is required to create the assessment district.

The district will also award $500 scholarships to graduating seniors Amy Gassner of Calaveras High School and Zachariah Jordan of Bret Harte High School, who are slated to read their winning essays to the board at 11 a.m.