SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Water and sewer fees are on the rise although not quite as much as proposed.

About 30 people attended the South Tahoe Public Utilities District monthly board meeting Thursday afternoon, over two dozen more than average, and several spoke against proposed rate hikes, 6% for water and 5% for sewer.

“The community needs a respite from rate increases,” said one longtime resident.

Another who has lived here for “over half a century,” asked about breaks for seniors and veterans while admitting increases are inevitable.

The comments continued.

“I think you guys do an outstanding job and your customer service is great, but I oppose the hikes, they are quite difficult to digest.”

“People can’t afford to live here already and the costs just keep going up.”

STPUD District Boundary Map

Kenny Curtzwiler, a multi-time supervisor candidate, asked the directors to try and cut down their own infrastructure cost, which they say is about 80 to 85% of every bill residents receive.

“Look within yourselves to lower infrastructure costs and not raise rates for residents,” Curtzwiler said.

One woman told the board her husband said “you guys would listen but go on and do your business.”

Board President Randy Vogelgesang assured audience members that the board was listening and said he appreciated the large turnout and all the questions.

“Through these series of questions I feel like good information is coming out,” Vogelgesang said. “We welcome all your questions.”

After the public had its say, the directors had theirs.

Director Chris Cefalu was torn, but didn’t like at all such a large increase.

“My gut says we should have a zero increase, but I’d like to cap residents at 3%,” he said.

Director Nick Exline wanted to move forward with the resolution (the rate hikes) as written.

“The fees for repairs will be much more expensive if we wait, I’m supporting it as is,” Exline said.

Longtime director Jim Jones said he had a real problem with the budget, and that they should raise the rates even more because the district is already behind on repairs.

He showed the audience an old corroded pipe littered with holes as an example of what a lot of STPUD’s steel pipes may look like.

“I have not voted for the budget in seven or eight years, it doesn’t do enough,” Jones said. “We should be building for the future, not stealing from it.”

Board Vice President Kelly Sheehan approved of an increase, but didn’t want such a sharp hike.

“We have to have an increase, but we need smaller, incremental increases,” Sheehan said.

Vogelgesang spoke last and seemed to be swayed by calls for smaller increases.

“If we enact 6% on the water side, that’s actually 8.2% for residents,” Vogelgesang said, referring to the cost of service for residents since they are responsible for the most water usage by far. “I’m not willing to accept that. I’m not willing to go above 4% for all residents.”

And that’s what they decided.

Directors voted 3-2 in favor of raising water and sewer rates 4% and 5%, respectively. Exline, Sheehan and Vogelgesang voted yes while Jim Jones and Chris Cefalu dissented.

The rate hike is the first year of a five-year plan where the rates could rise 5-6% every year, but the board will revisit the rates every year and decide if the hikes are warranted.

The board also approved the water and sewer budgets for 2019-20.

The total water budget is $21,556,475 with capital projects and wages accounting for about $17 million.

The sewer budget is $31,044,387 with capital projects and wages about $21 million.