The fight over water continues in Paso Robles

July 28, 2011


In the July 2011 issue of the Paso Robles Magazine, Paso Robles City Manager, Jim App said that the water rates proposed in 2007 were “virtually identical to those recently adopted”. After all the citizens of Paso Robles have been through with the water rates, I’m glad to say that the 2007 plan is nothing like the rates finally adopted in 2011.

With the 2007 plan, our seniors would have been paying $85 per month, even if they used NO WATER! On the current plan, they will be paying $25 for the sewer plus $4.40 for each unit of water used.

While App thought in 2007 that $10 million would build a Water Treatment Plant, only after thousand of letters of protest were received, did the City hire an engineering firm who found out that the Treatment Plant would instead cost $30 million. The current rates cover this higher cost of the Water Treatment Plant. The 2007 plan didn’t.

Do you remember the County worker, father of four, who spoke at a City Council meeting explaining that his water bill would be over $400 per month? That was what  App proposed and we would have been saddled with, until the citizens of Paso Robles made their feelings known.

The “Pay as you go” plan was adopted which cut $40 million in finance charges. This is actual money citizens will not have to pay with the current plan. Now, App wants to add financing back in.

Only because of thousands of Paso Robles citizens stood up and insisted on a better rate system, and on cutting spending, did we get to the current rates. Millions and millions of dollars in spending were cut, plan after plan—$40 million in financing the Water Treatment Plant, another $30 million in hard costs were cut in the final plan. Remember $6 million for a remote meter reading system and $2.8 million to purchase a one-acre water tank site?

The City claims all the objections over rates has cost almost $2 million. Well, from my perspective, the City would have cost the citizens over $70 million in unnecessary spending, if the City had its way. This is real savings. This is the “Savings” as opposed to a “Cost” of the democratic process that many Paso Robles residents participated in. I congratulate the all those who did participate. But it now appears that our work on this issue is not done.

Even after the special election was held and this project rejected by the voters, our City simply presented another rate increase and wouldn’t quit until they were successful in adopting an increase. After all, the City Council in 2004 committed to pay for the Pipeline, before they had any funding agreement from the citizens. And, later they decided they “needed” a Water Treatment Plant or they couldn’t use Nacimiento water.

With the court ruling allowing the City to charge for the Nacimiento Pipeline and the Water Treatment Plant infrastructure on our water bills instead of requiring these projects be put to a vote, the pressure is back on our good citizens to stand up and fight again and again, to assure we can afford to pay these outrageous expenses.

Since our elected representatives won’t stand up for us, let’s tell Jim App we are still paying attention. We are not “confused” with revisions in the rate plan. And, we will not stand for millions to be added to the $120 million that Nacimiento water is already costing us!

Karen Reed is a resident of Paso Robles.

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Good for you Karen! It is ridiculous that customers paying for a commodity, like water, have to spend so much time in oversight of the company or institution that is selling the commodity.

$40million in finance charges is a LOT of money you saved! I think this is a good opinion piece to save to show people that you can make a big difference if you spend the time and effort to make sure the customers are getting a fair shake.

Paso isn’t the only one raising their rates, and they appear to be a little more transparent than another local water company.

On July 4, Nipomo CSD’s general manager, Michael Lebrun told the Santa Maria Times that the district had passed an operations and maintenance budget with a $606,000 deficit (“NCSD approves budget with $6K deficit, Shortfall to be covered by reserves”).

Then on July 23 a Santa Maria Times article (“NCSD approves water rate increase”) said:

“The rate increases are needed to make up a gap in the cost of delivering water and the rates customers are currently paying, said Michael LeBrun, NCSD general manager.

LeBrun said that gap in the 2011-12 budget is about $600,000, which is being covered by reserve funds until a rate increase is implemented.

The proposal calls for a 9.5-percent increase in water use rates each year for the next five years, starting Nov. 1, to cover increasing costs and build up a fund to replace existing infrastructure.

For some customers, the increase would be as low as 4.1 percent. For the highest water users, it could jump as much as 42.1 percent for single-family homes and 53.4 percent for multifamily residences.

None of the rate increases would apply to the proposed pipeline to bring supplemental water to the Nipomo Mesa from Santa Maria….”

See the quoted text below. Here’s the interesting part. Watch how the single family residence customers get the rate increase socked to them with 4 tiered water rates, with a penalty for using more water, but commercial customers only have 2 tiered water rates, and agriculture has only a 1 tiered rate.

If the rate increase is to give incentive to water customers to save water, why aren’t commercial customers and agriculture customers getting similar 4 tiered water rates? Nipomo CSD doesn’t think they should share in saving water? Or do they expect the single family residence accounts to have to, once again, bear the majority of the burden of both water conservation and cost for the cost of the new, more expensive Santa Maria water?

…The use fees for single-family residential units would start at $1.64 per hundred cubic feet up to 2,400 cubic feet, $2.05 for 2,500 to 4,000 cubic feet, $2.88 for 4,100 to 10,000 cubic and $4.93 for more than 10,000 cubic feet for the first year. Rates in each tier would increase each year for the following four years. For example, the lowest tier would rise to $2.37 and the highest tier would rise to $7.08 per hundred cubic feet by 2015-16….

…Residential customers also would pay increasingly higher rates for higher water use across four tiers, creating an incentive to conserve water.

Commercial customers would be subject to a two-tiered set of rates. Water for agricultural use would remain under a single rate.

The proposed new rates still must pass a Proposition 218 protest hearing set for 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12, to become effective.

LeBrun said that, if necessary, the hearing could be continued to Wednesday, Oct. 26.

If 50 percent plus one customer objects, the new rates could not be implemented, and the district would have to dip deeper into its $2.5 million in reserves, LeBrun said.

It’s really sad to say, but customers have to watch their water companies very closely.

On Wed., Oct ober 12, If 50% of Nipomo CSD customers don’t turn out to protest, then those new water rates will start on November 1. Customers should verify the date for protest, too, because it might “change” between now and then, and you would not want to miss your chance to protest.

Here is one more thing.

At the June 2 Nipomo CSD board meeting it was revealed that Lebrun was made general manager on May 11, at a salary of $134,700 plus benefits. At the time KSBY did the story on the pay of the general managers of local CSD’s Tammy Rudock made the most and Lebrun made the second most as temporary general manager for Nipomo CSD. Now that Tammy Rudock is no longer general manager at Cambria CSD, it looks like Lebrun is the highest paid of all local CSD’s general managers.

I bet that is going to make that big water rate increase a little harder to swallow for Nipomo CSD’s customers.

In light of the condition our country, state, county and our city is in, the silent majority of city citizens need to awake from our blissful slumber we have been in. If we insist on remaining ignorant and free, it is obvious from App’s article we will be neither.

There isn’t any arguement the city can use more water. The only argument has been the method of obtaining it and how to pay for it.

The silent majority are really important and intelligent when it comes time to vote for our representitives and we are really important when it come to our bank accounts, but not so important when it comes to making important decisions about our city.

But, we are being told, we have a partner in the expense that is going to be charged, future growth. While I am not a betting man, I would bet in light of what is going on in our economy, there won’t be enough growth in my life time for future growth to carry its share of the expense.

After many years of chronic miss management of our city, (there is hardly a road in out town worth fixing, by our czars own admission our citys water system is junk, and we are being fined by the state because improvements have never be done to our sewer system), the citizens will be charged for these improvements.

Because the silent majority is going to be charged to fix the problems our city is facing, there isn’t any reason we shouldn’t be included in how it should be done.

What a fiasco in Paso Robles on their water rates. Too bad! The City Council didn’t follow the good example of the City Council back in 1998 – Measure D-98. The approx. $33 million was presented to the citizens of Paso Robles to VOTE on and it was approved. However, the present Paso Robles City Council circumvented the ballot box and got away without voters approval on a huge cost to the citizens of Paso Robles.

The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing at City Hall. In 2004 the city’s Public Safety folks decided that the addresses along River Rd. were messed up. So they decided to name the Cul-de-sacs in event of a fire or ambulance calls. Seems fair enough to me. Needless to say it turned into an ugly process with little interaction between city departments. So, I still get my water bill (both in July) with a River Rd. address. I have called about it in the past and nothing was done. I just gave up. I can’t think of a single PR city department that has ever been of any use or help to me.

Like many communities in this county, there are more and more unfunded mandates being fousted on taxpayers with the cities and the county carrying the water for the appointed groups that hand out these mandates. The county and city palnning departments have dished out building permits like candy, yet have not planned for the boom that ensued.

California always had water issues because of uncontrolled growth, the expansion into rural areas and the geography of this region with limited rain fall and a dry climate and few if any natural lakes. Add the explosion of wine grapes and wineries and you have serious problems when only a limited amount of ground water is available.

Every town is facing water issues of one kind or another like “drought reliability”,”reliable buildout supply”, “over draft buffers” and others that the county has seized upon to buld a larger tax base, employ all those underworked employees and justify the water projects. This did not happen overnight and no one community is immune.

Name one new reservoir built in the last 40 years by the county for drinking water supply, zero. Now count the number of new residents, new vineyards, and new wineries, the answer is too many and not enough new water for those demands…

Some of the wineries in the PR area do “dry farming.” If I shared my water sources from the same aquifer as the wineries, I would only buy from and visit the ones that do dry farming.

Dos this article have anything to do with the cutrrent lawsuit filed by John Borst?

Seems odd to me that it wasn’t even mentioned. These lawsuits cost the REAL concerned citizens of Paso Robles a ton of $.

Here’s an article about the lawsuit

If I was a PR water customer, I would not begrudge another customer’s attempts to set things right. It does not appear to be a frivolous lawsuit to me. Do you think it is?

For the 250k that Jim App makes, he sure doesn’t seem to be the sharpest tack in the bunch. Any smart leader would have figured in all the costs and brought it to the public waaaay back. No he looks a little foolish.

City Manager App and City Attorney Iris Yang seem pretty smart–too bad it’s “textbook smart” and not “real life, street smarts.” But it’s their combined stubborness and arrogance that really bug me.

Per Thea, at the PR water district office, everyone who receives a bill for use of PR city water is being ripped off. Why is this? Because if you look at your bill, the rate given at the top of the bill, per unit of water used, is eroneous and doesn’t reflect in the amount due. They add the Naci charge, sewer charge, and charge for next level billing. I use 749 gallons of water every month, with the exception of Jan and March of this year….I apparently used 750 gallons and was charged for 1496 gallons for those two months. When the Naci fee is a factor of gallons used, and my actual gallons used was grossly inflated, I am being ripped off.

Not to mention the double billing we all received this month….I wonder how many people inadvertently double paid it?

Why not just charge me for what I use, fairly, and not what I haven’t used. Seems like a simple enough concept to me…

I can’t help you on the naci charges, but I might be able to with the water charges.

I just looked on the website and PR charges per each 100 cubic feet (or 748 gallons) increment. Some companies call this a “unit.”

100 cubic feet = 748 gallons = 1 unit

If you use 749 gallons one month, some companies will just charge you for the “100 cubic feet” (or 748 gallons, or 1 unit) charge, and carry over the “extra” partial next unit of billing.

Sooner or later, enough “extra” will accumulate to the point where, combined with your current water usage, it goes up to the next “100 cubic feet” amount.

If you only use 1 748 gallons a month, you deserve the water conservation award of the decade, at least!