Beaumont needs a $110 million wastewater plant project but isn’t sure how to pay for it
Beaumont is continuing a project to upgrade and expand its wastewater treatment plant, but how the $110 million project will be paid for is still being pondered.
The project comes after a regional water quality board required the city to make the improvements. The plant must be expanded because it’s operating above a 75 percent threshold.
Mayor Nancy Carroll said the plant has ramifications far beyond meeting standards and serving today’s residents. Banning’s future growth depends on solid infrastructure, she said.
“Everybody wants economic development — restaurants, better shopping, movie theaters,” she said. “Unless you plan for an improved and more strategic response, you won’t get anybody to make that investment.”
The project includes advanced treatment systems that will produce recycled water.
But that will necessitate a system to dispose of brine waste. The city is working with the Santa Ana Watershed Authority and Orange County Sanitation district to get a permit to discharge the brine into the Inland Empire Brine line.
Beaumont received a Dec. 31 deadline for its expansion and financing plans, which were discussed at a Tuesday, Dec. 19, meeting.
Lloyd White, who just finished his term as mayor, said about 60 percent of the price tag is to upgrade the plant, which will be paid for with money the city has been collecting from a 2013 sewer rate increase.
But the city must find dollars to tap into the brine line.
“The plan is to fund it through debt,” White said. “The bigger question is, how are we going to pay for the debt.”
The city plans to pay for the project in part by again raising sewer rates.
A proposal to increase the rate 4.19 percent March 1 and 7 percent annually on Jan. 1, 2019, through 2022 was put on hold during a Dec. 5 city council meeting.
Enough questions were brought up to pause the process and study it more, White said The proposal will likely come back to the council in summer, he said.
Under state law, rates can’t rise without giving ratepayers a chance to protest the higher cost.
At the Dec. 5 session, City Manager Todd Parton suggested stopping the current rate process so the city could schedule community meetings to give residents background and explain its reasons behind rate adjustments, meeting transcripts show.
White said ratepayers will be queried to see if they prefer a gradual increase starting sooner or to wait and tack on a larger increase in the future.
“We don’t have to begin increasing rates right away,” he said. “We don’t need the money right away for the brine line.”
Beaumont provides sewer service to the entire city and some properties outside the city limits. It does not have a water department.
The latest decision was made the day that four former Beaumont officials accused of corruption pleaded guilty Tuesday, Dec. 19, to charges including embezzlement, misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest, and agreed to pay a total of $8.1 million in restitution.
While the case isn’t fully closed, other issues the city was facing have been concluded and finances are improving giving the city and council an almost clean slate headed into 2018.
“We’d like to put it all behind us and move forward,” White said.