FLAG CITY -- The Microtel Inn and Suites in Flag City pays a lot in county sewage fees. Its annual bill is $25,410, the equivalent of four households, said Steve Winkler, deputy director of the county's Public Works Department. The Flying J Travel Plaza has the highest annual Flag City sewage bill -- $119,185.
But these and 11 other Flag City businesses may pay even more in county sewage fees in 2008 unless the city of Lodi lets Flag City hook up to its sewage system.
The subject of using Lodi's system has a long history, and began when Flag City, then Saddle City, was first built 15 years ago, said Richard Prima, Lodi's director of Public Works.
The issue was discussed at a Lodi City Council meeting in October 2004, where Lodi officials were lukewarm to the idea.
It will again be brought up at an upcoming City Council meeting, Winkler said.
Preliminary discussions between county and city Public Works departments have gone on since October.
But a change of guard with Lodi's two new council members, Bob Johnson and JoAnne Mounce, may hardly be good news for Flag City. Neither is enthusiastic about the idea that Lodi would let Flag City businesses use its sewage treatment plant.
"Once you allow one person to do it, you open the floodgates," Mounce said Wednesday. "I just want to make sure that the citizens of Lodi have what we need for our future needs."
"I would not jump up and say 'whoopee' on something like this," he said.
He also worried about a possible Flag City expansion.
Councilwoman Susan Hitchcock, via e-mail from a vacation in Hawaii, wrote, "Lodi currently is struggling with both how to pay for state-mandated updates, deteriorating infrastructure and sufficient capacity to our water/wastewater system to handle current and planned citizenry as projected in our general plan."
She wanted to protect the financial investments of Lodi residents.
Mayor John Beckman and Councilman Larry Hansen did not return calls.
Winkler said he hopes to buy some time and find a more economical solution for Flag City businesses, who might have to pay anywhere from $5 to $20 million for state-mandated upgrades to their sewage plant in 2008.
"Those are very expensive upgrades for a small number of users," Winkler said.
Though many of the businesses in Flag City are big corporate entities, such as Best Western, many are independently owned franchises.
Winkler said the county wants to provide cost-effective sewage service for Flag City, but sky-high bills may force some of the businesses to leave.
Bobby Jin, the manager at Microtel Inn and Suites, said he worries about increasing sewage costs.
"I'm not sure what we'll do," he said.
The county actually postponed that 2008 deadline from 2005 at a California Regional Water Board last month.
Flag City businesses are already paying $300,000 for other state-mandated upgrades. That cost was spread over three years, starting in 2004.
A connecting tube to Lodi's White Slough Water Pollution Control Facility would cost Flag City businesses about $500,000, plus service fees and buy-in fees, but Winkler said that would still be less than the 2008 million-dollar upgrades.
Flag City's sewage would account for less than 5 percent of Lodi's plant capacity, Winkler said.
And if Lodi ultimately says no, the county has been talking informally to the city of Stockton to use their sewage plant.
Contact reporter Cheryl Winkelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.