Stop the rate increase
April 7, 2011
As many CalCoastNews readers may be aware, a Proposition 218 protest period has just ended in Paso Robles with the City Council deciding to go ahead with the water rate increase(s). That decision aside, I was grateful the February 2011 water notice I received prior to their decision had some useful written details explaining why the five-year plan of rate increases is being proposed. However, my reading of the new information provided on the notice raises a red flag and even seems to put City officials into another legal hole.
Attending the April 5 public hearing on the water rates this past Tuesday at Paso Robles City Hall and listening to the councilmen did little to dispel my belief that they aren’t very near a solution to making good on their “debt obligation,” legally or to the community at large. For example, at the meeting councilman John Hamon confirmed ratepayers wouldn’t be able to use Nacimiento water service during any year of the proposed five-year rate schedule.
That kind of unavailability strikes me as a violation of Proposition 218. That is, in the plain language of Article XIIID Sec. 6(b)(4) of the State Constitution, “No fee or charge may be imposed for a service unless that service is actually used by, or immediately available. Fees or charges based on potential or future use of a service are not permitted.”
Second, persons at the hearing learned Council members want to continue the Nacimiento water service charge in the form of what some would call a “hidden tax,” while doubling and even tripling the current water rate for people. Recast and dropped as a separate line item on a customer’s water bill, the $18 charge for Nacimiento water service (according to a City staff consultant present) is to be levied relative to the amount of water consumed.
Acting much like a gasoline tax, it may not be immediately apparent to some. But I cannot overlook or turn a blind eye to the increasingly unaffordable cost of water in its march upward to $4.40 per hcf. Unacceptable, that’s like paying $4.40 “at the pump” — even as ratepayers such as friends and myself are told we will receive no special service benefit for paying more! HF&F Consultants express, “Nacimiento water is assumed to benefit only growth” (July 1, 2008 staff report). And the City’s January 2010 Kennedy/Jenks water rate report provides no evidence that current residents will receive any special benefit from the Nacimiento Water Project.
Third, the Council still wants to shift the Nacimiento water debt payment to citizens – the ratepayers – whom almost all know in Paso Robles are least responsible for the proposed spike in the rates. In the SLO County Financing Authority Nacimiento Water Project document dated Sept. 10, 2007, our City staff expressed connection fees are “expected to increase to provide adequate revenues to meet new infrastructure needs arising from new development and capital construction obligations for its [Nacimiento] pipeline and treatment facility.” It’s only fair those actually creating the cost burden should pay for it. I strongly believe Paso Robles City staff should be held to their word.
Fourth, according to Proposition 218, funds raised or used for a “specific purpose” require voter approval of an assessment or special tax. With a new rate proposal on the table our Councilmen have another opportunity to do things right for the Citizens in our community. Yet, Council members seem content to provide ratepayers with what I consider to be less than their full rights of citizenship. That is, the Nacimiento pipeline and water treatment plant are just two examples of specific purpose funded projects that permit a ballot vote. Why should our elected representatives settle for any thing less than such a vote in a democracy?
After five previous failed attempts to get a water rate increase passed, and with the current rate proposal and ordinance not yet fully authorized (that takes another second reading on April 19th), our elected leaders again need to be reminded that no public service is performed when a ballot vote by the people is denied. I will respectfully continue to say no to any City Council request for funding that appears to deny me that liberty; appears to unfairly burden citizens or the least of us in our community; or helps to put a brake on excessive spending of taxpayers’ money by Paso Robles City officials. I encourage others to do the same.