Rate shock in Big Pine

A shock treatment that will hurt the community.  That’s how Tom Phifer of Big Pine described a proposed sewer rate increase that he says most of the community opposes.  It’s an increase that many saymainst.bigpine1 will eat up their Social Security raise – the first one in three years.

The Big Pine Water and Sewer District proposal would raise sewer rates for homeowners by 100% and for Big Pine’s 16 businesses by 333%.  The proposal also includes a $10 per month construction fee on everyone.  This would raise $166,500 per year, paid for by 364 residents and business owners, according to Mr. Phifer.

It all started when Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control found the bacteria level unacceptable in Big Pine’s sewer system.  Chairman of the Big Pine Water and Sewer Board Kevin Tillemans said the Board hired an engineering firm which recommended a some $400,000 fix.  Based on that plan, the Board sent out notices of a rate hike.  Tillemans said failure to fix the system would result in $5,000 per day fines.  That’s currently not happening.

Rates have not gone up for 20 years but expenses have.  The current rate hike, Tillemans said, is the Board’s proposal.  He did say they are willing to look at other options. Tillemans explained that the District takes in $68,190 in revenue per year and expenses last year were $100,000.  The reserve account made up the difference.

Tillemans points out that it is a volunteer water and sewer board “running things cheaper than a private company.”  He admitted that the proposed rate hikes may sound ridiculous but they would cover the problems.

Mr. Phifer and other residents want to explore a fix other than a completely new sewer plant.  Phifer said the Board never consulted the public on this issue, provided minimal information and limited time.  “It seems like kind of a shock treatment,” said Phifer.  He also pointed to figures he verified.  He said the sewer reserve account holds $230,000 and the operating account, $104,000. Phifer suggests use of that money and a more modest rate hike to fix the problems.

Phifer also points to the fact that there are a number of fixed income and social Security residents in Big Pine.  Phifer said for the first time in three years, Social Security will give a 3.6% raise.  “If they pass this sewer rate hike,” he said, “they will negate our Social Security raise in one  mighty stroke.  The community can’t afford this.  It was not wisely done.”

Phifer said he and others recommend a long-term, phased in fix that would immediately take care of the bacteria problem and slowly improve the plant.  He suggests a 33% rate hike for businesses and homes with a $5 per month construction fee – a more modest approach instead of a “brand new cadillac system.” Board Chairman Tillemans said the board is open to options but reminds that the sewer plant is 40 years old.

The Big Pine Water and Sewer Board will hold a public meeting on this issue Thursday, November 17th at 7pm at the Town Hall.

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7 Responses to Rate shock in Big Pine

  1. Pete November 13, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    “Phifer said the Board never consulted the public on this issue, provided minimal information and limited time.”

    Never consulted the public? The whole idea behind the PROPOSAL is to put it out there to receive feedback from the public. Hence, there is a public meeting being held to discuss the issue with the town. The water board never planned on executing the proposal without working with the town. While Mr. Phifer and company are getting riled up about the issue, they are failing to realize that all the water board is trying to do is make things work. The VOLUNTEERS on the board will be paying the same rates themselves. Everybody is on the same team here…

  2. sierragrl November 11, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    It would have been nice if the reporter had included the average monthly rate that households currently pay. According to the numbers in the article, it looks like the average monthly rate AFTER the rate increases will be $38.11 (res and bus combined so res is probably lower then that), which would indicate a current residential rate of around $19. Assuming more then one person per household, this won’t come close to even a quarter of the the social security increase in most households. I hate hyperbole and it rarely helps one’s argument. And, I have to point out, most working peoples incomes have gone down significantly in the last 5 years so this cry and hue about seniors on ‘fixed’ incomes has a hollow ring these days. But all that said, Mr.Phifer’s suggestion of $5 const fee would soften the blow. Perhaps it could be phased up to $10 after a year or so. All in all, sounds like Big Pine sewer district has been doing a good job! a lot better then mammoth’s town and airport management!

    • Benett Kessler November 11, 2011 at 1:56 pm #


      Mr. Phifer said that residential customers are billed $30 every two months. So rates would double to $60, plus the $10 construction fee. Commercial customers are billed .90 per billing unit which is 700 gallons. Their rates would go up by 333% and the $10 construction fee.

      • sarah November 14, 2011 at 6:44 pm #

        We live in Big Pine and have 2 additional rentals. Our rates will go up 333 percent for water. Currently we pay $15 per building for the sewer, regardless of whether the places are rented or not . That’s 45 dollars a month. With the implementation of the new proposal we will be paying twice as much — 90 dollars a month. We pay water and trash for our tenants as it should be, but what will happen now? We’ll have to pass this on, at least partially to our tenants, who are as strapped as we are. We all agree some increase must happen but this is completely ridiculous. Maybe it’s just a shot over the bow, an opening gambit to increase rates. But it was a clumsy effort, to say the least. And it begs the question — who was monitoring the sewer system to make sure it was functional? Who appoints the water district officers? Many questions. Bennett — do your investigative thing!

  3. Bobbie Lee Swagger November 11, 2011 at 12:58 am #

    I know, I know!

    Next time don’t wait 20 years (!) to bump rates.

  4. downthecreek November 10, 2011 at 10:10 pm #


    open up your walets.. they need the money for their mighty PENSIONS

    After all it ‘s the time of the year for giving.

  5. Rob November 10, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    Too bad we can’t route our sewers into the L.A. aqueduct and let DWP have some of that additional water they’re always after.


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