Despite a huge amount of public opposition, the City Council on Tuesday voted in favor of increasing the garbage, water and sewer rates for residents.
The council unanimously agreed that residents' garbage rates would increase by 2.34 percent next year. requested the change to accommodate cost-of-living adjustments for its workers and disposal fee increases.
However, not every council member agreed that increasing the water and sewer rates was the best solution for the city, piggybacking on many residents' concerns that the burden placed on the taxpayer was unfair. The council voted 3-2 in favor of increasing the water and sewer rates by 9.8 percent and 10.3 percent respectively, with council members Rico Medina and Michael Salazar casting the dissenting votes.
The three council members who voted for the water and sewer increases all cited the fact that it took the city 84 years to develop a master plan for its infrastructure and that it was either now or never to fix it.
"What it comes down to is pay me now or pay me later," Mayor Jim Ruane said. "What's going to happen later? I don't know. But I do know what we have to do now."
Vice Mayor Ken Ibarra said he couldn't sympathize with people who claimed the rate increases would put a dent in their pocketbooks because, just like everyone else, he struggles every month to pay his bills. And he was willing to pay more for improving the city's infrastructure, even it meant his household had to struggle some more, he said. The reality that residents had to understand, he said, was that everyone's costs have gone up because of the economy.
"What hasn't gone higher every single year?" Ibarra said.
Leading up to Tuesday's meeting, the city received 350 protests to the rate hikes.
Residents continued to voice their opposition during the public hearing.
Small business owner Russell Stines said his utility rates have continued to go up for as long as he's been in San Bruno. Yet, revenue for his business has continued to drop since the recent recession hit.
"I've been getting nickeled and dimed by San Bruno since I moved here," Stines said. "You guys keep jacking things up. But somebody has to step up and say, 'What about the ordinary people here?'"
Rina Ranahan said she didn't think the city was handling the process for increasing rates democratically because the council has continually approved the hikes without putting anything up for a vote.
"This is demagoguery, and it should change," Ranahan said. "There is a rising objection to your method of forcing rate increases on this city. There is not one reason why we have to follow this master plan. We can make changes and many of the changes should be approved by the citizens of our city."
In the end, the majority of the council members sided with city staff's recommendations.
According to the city, there is no way to avoid raising residents' rates, even though it could potentially place a burden on a number of residents.
The city's costs to purchase water from Hetch Hetchy, which is supplied by San Francisco and comprises 43 percent of San Bruno's water supply, is expected to increase by 54 percent over the next four years.
The average age of both the city's water and sewer infrastructure system is more than 60 years old. In some parts of the city, pipes are more than 100 years old. Because of the , the city is now legally required to improve the infrastructure system or face more fines.
City staff also said that failing to increase rates now to pay for infrastructure improvements would lead to revenue shortfalls in the coming years, and it would likely lead to more significant rate increases and additional infrastructure problems.
The council will hold a second public hearing on the rate increases and take a final vote on May 22.
If the water and sewer rate increases are approved, the utility rates would be increased over five years.
The council did agree to look into how residents at pay for their garbage after several residents at the condominium complex complained that they were being overcharged.
Seniors and those on a fixed income will also have an opportunity to get a discount, the city said.