Paso Robles water plan is just not working

January 31, 2012

Karen Reed

OPINION By KAREN REED

I was shocked when not much was said about the huge increases in water rates needed to fund the water system projects discussed at the Nov. 15 Paso Robles City Council meeting. After years of hard work to come to an agreement on rates to pay for Nacimiento water, it seems the City was way off on what new development would be paying.

The new plan for water department improvements shows projected water rates increasing every year for the next 15 years. Rates shown increase from $1.32 to $8.70 per unit, a 650 percent increase.

But don’t worry; these will be small increases, until, until we get to $8.70. You may not even notice.

But you will pay and pay.

The City explained “water sales have dropped … since 2007.” However, this is a drop in new development connection charges, not consumption from existing customers.  Income from new development is now projected to be about half of previous estimates.

Basically, with little “new development” to pay 50 percent, existing customers are left paying millions of dollars more.

All new borrowing was cut from the plan when we chose the “pay as you go plan”, but these new plans have $42 million in debt added. Payments on the new financing are $3 million per year on top of $4 million for the pipeline bond.

The proposed changes have $5 million more per year cost than our current plan. Looks like we already have run-away costs in this poorly thought-out plan, and construction hasn’t even started.

This is an example of the concern over giving our City Council a “blank check.”  The median water bills will now be $80 more than current bills. Check your water bill, when you use more than 20 units, your bill could easily be over $200 per month.

Is there ever a time when the Council will say, “This is just not working?”

A recent state law requires that any rate increase adopted can include increases for up to 5 years, not longer. Now, our City Council did not decide to adopt the 15 years of rate increases shown on the new plan presented Nov. 15th.

I guess the Council has just accepted the need for further rate increases after the 5 years adopted April 2011. The Council “authorized contract negotiation to begin” for the plan that requires rate increases for 15 years or more. Does that sound legal to you? If they sign contracts with no provision in place to pay for the work, our Council will be putting Paso Robles into a situation similar to the Los Osos sewer mess.

When Nacimiento water was first proposed, there were several other options on the table. In the years since, even more options have been proposed yet our Council has only pursued this one plan.

City Manager, Jim App has explained, even without Nacimiento water, we produce 10 million gallons of water per day (MGD).  In the winter, we use only three MGD.  In the hottest part of the summer we use 12 MGD, before we began conservation efforts and conserved 20 percent of our summer usage.

With such a small chance of shortage surely we could find a more affordable alternative. In the short run, we could work with Atascadero and utilize their percolation pond instead of building a water treatment plant until we have enough new development to pay their share.

We could make an agreement with the Ground Water Basin Stakeholders in which Paso would add our 4,000 acre feet per year (AFY) to support the ground water basin in exchange for contractual rights to draw 4,000 AFY from the basin.

We could offer incentives to some of our vineyard neighbors to bury storage tanks on their property to store the extra water produced in early summer to get us through the hottest part of the summer.

For the long run, we could split the cost of a water treatment plant with Atascadero that would serve both cities.

There are many, more affordable alternatives, yet our City Council insists on pursuing this unaffordable, unmanageable plan at the expense of its citizens.

It is time to elect different City Council members that will listen to their constituents and follow the laws that protect its citizens, instead of blindly following expensive recommendations from self-serving consultants and city employees with grandiose plans.

It is time that the City of Paso Robles was governed for the benefit of the citizens instead of for the growth of City coffers.

Karen Reed is a long time Paso Resident, employed by State of California and married with one grown child.


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8 Comments

  1. catsdad says:

    Why you are blaming the staff for these rate increases when it was YOUR elected officials who deceptively set up the process for the Nacimiento Pipelines approval.. These officials knew full well what this project was going to cost but with total disregard for their constituents, except those who will make a substantial profit from this project. They set up their own commission without voter approval and then committed each community to the construction so that by the time it came to the local councils for review citizens were told that if they didn’t approve the rate increases they would have to pay out of their General Fund. Thank Dave Romero, SLO, David Brooks, Templeton, John Hamon, Paso, Grigger Jones, Atascadero and Frank Mecham, Paso for committing you to a project that is of no benefit to any of the rate payers living in these communities at the time of the construction. The only beneficiaries are new development. Now SLO has put Andy Carter as their representative and you can be sure his concern will be concentrated on the pro development group so we will end up paying more.

    (4) 8 Total Votes - 6 up - 2 down
    • pasojim says:

      catsdad
      What is your point.

      it is common knowledge the our illustrious city council (I prefer impotetents) just rubber stamp anything put in front of them by staff.

      Citizens of the city don’t have any representation in our city government.

      (3) 7 Total Votes - 5 up - 2 down
  2. sloweb says:

    Bureaucrats of all levels justify (rightfully so) increased salaries, employees and expenditures on increased usage and demand. Even the most minimal usage of logic implies that when demand goes down, you cut resources to match it. Or, has the Planning Dept staff at any location been decreased to match the decrease in applications and permits? Noooo….

    This symptom is everywhere you look, where you do no have free market choice.

    (6) 10 Total Votes - 8 up - 2 down
  3. whoowhoo says:

    Makes “State Water” appear as a no brainer these days.

    (3) 5 Total Votes - 4 up - 1 down
  4. r0y says:

    I think it’s pretty clear to most attentive, tax-paying citizens that the unelected, lifetime bureaucrats that make budgets are usually not correct.

    It’s like all the “experts” that are cited in media. The same experts who are always “surprised” at the market or trends.

    When it’s local, it hurts more; I would love to see how they are budgeting, and how much income they project from trends and past performances within a small, select time-frame.

    Is our economy really turning around, or have many people just stopped spending like drunken sailors? These issues effect budgeting immensely and are often ignored, until it’s too late, of course.

    So much for GAPP.

    (11) 15 Total Votes - 13 up - 2 down
  5. doggin says:

    In all fairness may I suggest the City of Paso request mutual aid from the City of Bell boys to handle their planning. After all SLO’s finest volunteered to sort our Bells financial issues and surely are on top of it as I type this. Remember if you cant dazzle them with brilliance then baffle them with bullshit.

    (15) 15 Total Votes - 15 up - 0 down
    • MaryMalone says:

      Might as well use the City of Bell’s “boys” (and “girl”) top do your planning.

      PR’s City Attorney was with the legal firm that signed off on all of the criminal financial set-ups enacted by the City of Bell’s leadership. After that firm was forced to dissolve after the Bell scandal, the PR attorney went to a new legal firm. Fortunately for her (but not for the PR residents), she was able to convince the City Council to contract with her new legal firm. That way, she can continue to be PR’s city attorney.

      Of course, PR always has Jon Seitz as assistant city attorney, and if he is busy getting his hair done or whatever, I’m sure his brother Michael can help the city attorney concoct some–ahhh–lucrative financial arrangements.

      Just think what the folks of PR will get with the braintrust involved in the City of Bell disaster and the braintrust signing off on the Oceano wastewater treatment facility.

      (6) 6 Total Votes - 6 up - 0 down
  6. pasoparent5 says:

    If Jim App and the council continue to handle our water situation the way they’ve handled the Chief Lisa debacle, Paso residents should be worried. Very, very worried.

    (34) 34 Total Votes - 34 up - 0 down

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