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With rate hikes looming, one Los Ososite has sold 

With the possibility of monthly sewer bills that seek more than $200 in Los Osos looming and uncertainty hanging like the morning fog, lifetime resident Lonnie Zavala said he's had enough.

"We just sold our home, and it had a lot to do with the sewer," Zavala said. "We didn't know whether our house was going to gain equity. It was scary."

Zavala purchased his home in November of 2003 and said he watched his property value go up then take a dive. He believes the financial plummet is directly related to the ongoing sewer issue.

"At one point, we could have made a couple hundred grand, but we really made about 60," said Zavala, who's now renting in Cayucos.

It's too soon to say if Zavala's move is a trend, and home prices are flagging across the region and nation, but a recent report won't offer comfort to people in Zavala's position.

The Technical Advisory Committee released a report that said Los Osos residents could be forced to cough up as much as $275 a month for sewer fees.

Though the report offered several scenarios that would alter the financial bite, one county official expects Los Osos residents to pay about $2,500 a year in sewer-related bills.

"At this stage of the development, being real precise is difficult, but by analyzing different scenarios we concluded the monthly bill of $200 is a valid number," said Paavo Ogren, the county's sewer project manager.

According to Ogren, Los Osos residents could begin making partial payments for the wastewater treatment center as early as December of 2008, but would not experience the full payment until 2012.

Affordability seems to be one of the biggest challenges surrounding the sewer.

"I understand there are some people that may find themselves in a difficult situation," Ogren said. "That's why we are dedicated to working on the affordability issue and seeking federal and state grants to offset the costs."

In addition to monthly fees, the report compared nine potential wastewater treatment plant sites.

The sewer's location has long been aggressively debated. Many residents were upset with the proposed Tri-W site, complaining that the location would ruin the town's ambience.

"The report is out, and people need to look at the options and need to understand it," said Harvey Packard, the Regional Water Quality Control Board enforcement coordinator. "The assessment vote will be based on this report that the county just put out, so people need to understand it and be aware of it."

Homeowners in Los Osos will have the chance to cast their vote on a sewer tax in the fall.


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