Virtual Public Hearing 7 p.m. May 11, 2020

The District mailed notices of a Public Hearing on proposed rate changes to all owners of property in its service area in March 2020. USD proposed rate increases over the next five years to fund vital capital projects that will take over a decade to complete as well as to meet anticipated state and federal regulations.

The Public Hearing was on the agenda of USD's May 11, 2020 Board meeting, which was virtual due to current county and state restrictions on public gatherings.  All members of the community were invited to listen, comment, and ask questions. To read the May 11, 2020 Board meeting packet, please see the Board Meetings web page. To learn more about the outcome of the Public Hearing, please see our Sewer Service Charges web page.

 

USD Proposes New Rates

Union Sanitary District is proposing rate increases over the next five years to fund vital capital projects that will take over a decade to complete as well as to meet anticipated state and federal regulations. The District recently mailed notices of a May 11, 2020 public hearing on the proposed rate changes to all property owners in Fremont, Newark, and Union City.

“The District is very sensitive to everything transpiring in the world right now, and understands that a wastewater service increase may add further worry,” said General Manager Paul Eldredge. “After carefully considering the impacts of postponing the increase, it became very clear that any delay would result in higher costs to customers and could severely impact the District’s operations in the years ahead.

"It is currently estimated that each year the District’s critical capital projects are delayed costs approximately an additional $12.5 million per year. USD has infrastructure needs now and for the next 10 years that were overwhelming factors in this decision. The District must move forward with required capital improvement projects to address current issues that make wastewater more costly to treat as well as aging infrastructure that, though well-maintained, has reached the end of its useful life.”

USD’s 10-year Capital Improvement Program is $644,350,000. “It’s important to consider that construction of these facilities takes several years, and there are substantial savings by proceeding now versus delaying these important projects,” noted Eldredge. “These infrastructure investments are necessary in order to maintain safe, reliable operations that comply with regulatory requirements and protect public health and the environment.”

If adopted, the yearly increases range from about $33 to $41 annually for single-family residences, and from about $32 to $37 annually for multiple family residences. The current annual rate for single-family residences, the majority of USD’s customers, is $421.37. If approved, in FY 2021 the rate would increase to $454.57 starting in July of 2020 and would appear on property tax bills, which are usually mailed in October.

The proposed rates are based on the results of a comprehensive study of the cost of providing sewer service from July 2020 through June 2025 which can be found at the District’s website at unionsanitary.ca.gov/sewer-service-charges. They reflect the study’s calculations on minimum rate increases for each year that would allow the District to meet its capital, operations, and reserve expense requirements.

“USD’s current rates are at the lower end of 35 Bay Area wastewater service providers surveyed, yet we provide some of the most extensive services,” said Eldredge. “The District strives to provide reliable, essential service as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. Even with the proposed increases, USD’s rates would remain well below many of those of other agencies.”

USD’s mission includes protecting public health and the environment through its stewardship of wastewater infrastructure in Fremont, Newark, and Union City by collecting, treating and returning to the environment on average 24 million gallons of wastewater daily. The District maintains a large number of facilities and equipment, including more than 839 miles of sewer lines, seven pump stations, and the buildings and equipment at its 33-acre wastewater treatment plant in Union City. “The cost of operating and maintaining these facilities continues to rise every year, often outpacing inflation,” said Eldredge. “The District will continue to seek cost saving and other measures to keep increases as low as possible.”

The notice of a public hearing, which was prepared and sent before the current “Shelter in Place” orders were imposed, notes a community meeting that is scheduled for April 21, 2020 at the Fremont Main Library. Due to current county and state restrictions on public gatherings, this meeting will be replaced with an online or teleconference option. Updates regarding how to connect to the virtual meeting will be provided on the District’s website unionsanitary.ca.gov, Facebook page, and on Twitter @usdtweets. Ratepayers can also contact the District at (510) 477-7500 or via email at rates@unionsanitary.ca.gov.

Property owners may protest the proposed rates via mail, email, or fax until 5 p.m. on May 11, 2020, or in-person before the close of the public comment portion of the public hearing, which is scheduled to be held at 7 p.m. on May 11, 2020 in the District Boardroom, 5072 Benson Road, Union City. If the current shelter in place orders are extended past the current May 3, 2020 end date, the May 11 public hearing will likely be a teleconference. The District will provide updates to the community, such as how to participate in meetings electronically, as it moves forward.

 

COVID-19 Information

The District’s 33-acre wastewater treatment plant continues its 24/7 operations during the regional shelter-in-place order. As an essential public utility, we have staffing and contingency plans in place to continue our vital service to the Tri-Cities during these extraordinary circumstances.

Our treatment process is operating normally, which in general is effective in killing most if not all viruses and pathogens. All water treated at USD is disinfected before it leaves the wastewater treatment plant and is released into the environment. 

If you are experiencing a sewer emergency, please call (510) 477-7500. The District's main phone number will be answered by reception staff during normal business hours of 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and by treatment plant staff after hours. We encourage all non-urgent questions be directed to contactusd@unionsanitary.ca.gov. Emails to this address will receive a response within three business days.

USD strives to meet customer needs while protecting the public and our employees’ health and doing our part to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The District's Administrative offices are open during normal business hours of 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and permit counter service continues to be provided. Adjustments to customer service at the permit counter are in place as many employees are working remotely in response to the shelter-in-place order. To comply with the order's instructions for social distancing, the lobby security gate will be closed. The front desk receptionist can easily communicate through the gate and direct visitors seeking permits to speak to District Engineering Technicians via telephone. Calls can be made via customers' personal phones or a land line located in USD's lobby.

Plans can be dropped off at a table in the lobby for review. The Receptionist can accept payments via credit card (MC/VISA) or by check. At this time, customer service staff will continue to make every effort to process plan reviews normally.

Communications and instructions from county public health agencies regarding the shelter-in-place order continue to evolve as new information arises. USD will update customers if any further adjustments to Administrative office hours or plan review and permitting processes are required.

 

USD Issues Bonds to Refinance Debt at Historically Low Interest Rates

USD recently sold bonds to refinance over $37 million in existing debt at lower interest rates, saving more than $2.2 million dollars. The savings will be applied toward funding the District’s extensive Capital Improvement Program, which is more than $1 billion dollars over the next 20 years.

“Although the District has taken advantage of low-interest loans through the state and federally funded Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) program for many years, a historically favorable bond market prompted staff to explore alternative financing methods that would further save money,” says General Manager Paul Eldredge. “This is part of our commitment to keep expenses down and plan for the future in a way that has the most benefit to ratepayers.

The average interest rate on USD’s original SRF loans was 2.415%. Refinancing brought the rate down to 1.419%. The District’s Capital Improvements Program includes upgrades and improvements to address issues such as higher solids in wastewater that strain the system and make treatment more complicated and costly, increasingly stringent treatment standards, and aging infrastructure that, while well-maintained, has reached the end of its useful life.

“The District’s ability to take advantage of this opportunity is a reflection of USD’s focus on thorough capital and fiscal planning to meet both near-term and long-term challenges,” says Eldredge. “The District’s professional and efficient operations, finances, administration, and governance resulted in favorable credit ratings and investor interest that helps USD to continue providing quality service at the best value for our customers."

 

 

USD Wins Financial Reporting Award

GFOA

USD was awarded a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) for our comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR). The Certificate of Achievement is the highest form of recognition in the area of governmental accounting and financial reporting, and its attainment represents a significant accomplishment by a government agency and its management.

The Certificate of Achievement was presented to USD's Finance and Acquisition Services Team (FAST), which had primary responsibility for preparing the award-winning CAFR. An impartial panel found the District's CAFR to meet the high standards of the program, which includes demonstrating a constructive "spirit of full disclosure" to clearly communicate USD's financial story.

 

Union Sanitary District’s Leadership School Receives National Recognition

USD staff with Award

Union Sanitary District’s Leadership School program recently received a National Environmental Achievement Award for workforce development from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA.) NACWA is a nationwide network of public wastewater and stormwater agencies that share a mission to provide affordable and sustainable clean water for the communities they serve.  

USD established the program to prepare our future leaders and support long-term succession planning. “Like many organizations, the District is frequently faced with retirements of experienced staff that can be challenging to backfill in this competitive labor market,” says General Manager Paul Eldredge. “USD’s Leadership School was conceived as an opportunity to develop internal candidates who could not only fill these positions, but like their predecessors, become strong industry leaders. Conversely, participants may discover that management is not for them. This program provides employees the chance to consider the career path that best suits their interests.”  

The Leadership School’s two-year course is a blend of learning opportunities. Participants complete external college-level business management coursework, attend in-house classes focused on USD-specific policies and processes, and are paired with executive team mentors to gain insight into what a management role at the District entails. All curriculum is developed in-house by District subject-matter experts.

“Leadership School has resulted in internal advancement opportunities that provide significant savings in training time and maintain our high productivity levels,” Eldredge says. “This helps us to continue providing customers reliable, cost-effective service.”

Photo: USD Staff Members with NACWA's NEAA Award: Treatment and Disposal Manager Armando Lopez, Organizational Performance Manager Karoline Terrazas, Human Resources Manager Gene Boucher

 

 

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