SLO ratepayers taking a long hike

June 19, 2014

waterBy JOSH FRIEDMAN

San Luis Obispo city staffers are unaware of the last year in which sewer rates have not increased.

The city has raised sewer rates for at least the past 21 years, and they will go up again next month. Including a 3 percent raise planned to take effect next month, rates have increased by an average of more than 7 percent, over a 22-year span. The average increase in that span is more than twice the rate of inflation.

CalCoastNews asked the city utilities department when the last year was in which rates did not increase. Utilities Services Manager Ron Munds searched through boxes of city council resolutions but could not find the data prior to fiscal year 1993-1994, he said.

Munds said he believes the last year in which the city did not raise sewer rates was in the late 1980s.

Sewer rates increased sharply during the last decade but have been increasing at smaller rates since 2009.

Next month will mark the 11th consecutive year in which San Luis Obispo water rates have increased. Over that span, the city has raised water rates by an average of 9.9 percent a year.

As of July 1, the average residential water user will pay $60.64 a month. The average residential sewer user will pay $69.35 a month.

Residents have grumbled in recent years, particularly at protest hearings, about ongoing rate hikes. But, city staff says the rate hikes are justified and that rates dropped 10 percent in 1999 before remaining steady for four years.

“The rates are high, but we are one of the few communities that has a very secure, reliable water supply because of that investment,” Munds said.

Munds said water rates increased sharply over much of the last decade in order for the city to acquire its share of Nacimiento Pipeline water. Since 2010, water rates have been increasing by decreasing amounts.

Energy costs and regulatory requirements factor heavily into rate increases for both water and sewer services, Munds said. Electrical costs have risen, and the state of California has mandated upgrades to city treatment facilities.

“We have to keep treating to a higher and higher level,” Munds said.

The city upgraded its water treatment facility in 2008 to meet regulatory requirements and is now preparing to renovate its sewage treatment plant to comply with demands of the state and regional water boards. In order to fund the sewer upgrade, the city plans to issue a bond of about $75 million, Munds said.

In addition to that debt, the city has about 25 years of remaining payments to make on its share of the Nacimiento Pipeline. San Luis Obispo currently pays about $6 million annually in pipeline debt service and maintenance.

Recently, the San Luis Obispo City Council has expressed little concern over rising utilities costs and rates. The council approved next month’s rate increases unanimously on June 10 without one word of debate.

A year ago, when the city was restructuring utility rates, only Councilman Dan Carpenter opposed the increases. Carpenter said the council had failed to address high staffing costs, which in turn passed the expenses onto the ratepayers.

The utilities department currently has 61 full time employees. The full time utilities employees make an average base salary of nearly $73,000, according to a payroll chart provided by the human resources department.

Including employee benefits, staffing costs for the utilities department total more than $7 million annually. Munds justified the costs by pointing to the fact that employee pay represents a much smaller portion of overall expenditures for utilities than it does for other departments.

During last year’s rate increase hearing, Mayor Jan Marx said there was nothing the council could do at the time to bring down the rates.

“I know that if it’s possible we will do that,” Marx said. “Right now it’s not possible.”

In addition to arguing for lower employee pay, Carpenter proposed that the city encourage utilities customers to use more water.

The utilities department has long encouraged residents to conserve water, but it raised rates the most last year on those who conserve the most water. Currently, the city only uses about 58 percent of its annual water allotment. Even so, purveyors have oversold most water supplies, and it is unlikely the city has access to as much water as it is allotted.

Utilities director Carrie Mattingly responded to Carpenter’s suggestion of increased consumption by jokingly saying that it would amount to heresy.

The city has remained firm in its support of water conservation. It has also maintained a policy against selling water outside the city limits, which Marx said would promote urban sprawl.

Munds said he expects both water and sewer rates to increase by around 3 percent annually in the foreseeable future.


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achillesheal

This is what the government scum do, drip, drip, drip, tax, increase tax, fee, increase fee. They wipe out the middle class with their taxes and fees and then convince the fools to tax themselves more.


Wake up people. It is us against them, not the way they divide us against ourselves. Until all politicians are tarred, feathered andanally raped with cuddle prods by the people, this isn’t going to stop.


zaphod

like in an aynrand fantasy huh


achillesheal

I have never read Atlas Shrugged, but if they torture government officials, it sounds like a compelling read.


zaphod

if you liked LRonHubbard you will lurve AynRand meth fueled dystopian fantasies

spoiler HR helps repair the torture machine they use on him trying to get his formula!


Myself

Out of courisity why are people afraid of Ann Rynd’s book Atlas Shrugged,it was written in the 50’s and depicts what is going on today,if she was dopped out of her mind as some have said it must have been pretty good stuff to see 50 some odd years into the future and was able to predict it.


Jorge Estrada

Good Morning


wineguyjc

Munds said “water rates increased sharply over much of the last decade in order for the city to acquire its share of Nacimiento Pipeline water.” This was to pay for the pipeline to no-where by all accounts. This pipeline was pimped to the communities as the solution to long term droughts. Fast forward, the pipeline is finished , a drought hits and there is no water to pump and transfer. Numerous experts spoke out about the fallacy of the pipeline being a solution to a drought, but the City saw it as a way to raise rates and oh, yes raise salaries too. SLO utilities staff are the highest paid in the county. In fact, data from Black and Veatch water and sewer rate analysis reveals that the staff at SLO utilities are some of the highest paid in the State and nation.


Munds said “The city upgraded its water treatment facility in 2008 to meet regulatory requirements and is now preparing to renovate its sewage treatment plant to comply with demands of the state and regional water boards. In order to fund the sewer upgrade, the city plans to issue a bond of about $75 million”. Did he tell them that they had to upgrade the facility because staff continuously kept allowing raw sewage to flow into San Luis Creek and in order to avoid fines, management agreed to upgrade the waste water treatment plant. Please tell the whole story, not just a hole story.


Munds justified the costs by pointing to the fact that employee pay represents a much smaller portion of overall expenditures for utilities than it does for other departments. He forgot to mention that nearly 80% of the City’s budget goes to employee cost. Oops, left out a critical fact.


Top pay apparently means piss poor decisions. Well, at least in SLO Town. So yes on Measure Y, the staff all deserve a raise. If they get a raise maybe they won’t steal, embezzle city assets, extort people under color of authority, deal drugs, falsify reports, falsify paperwork to secure subsidies, grow pot on City property, dump hazardous waste on city property. Yeah, that will stop it all!


Myself

I might be mistaken but the way I see the nac pipe is when we get back to a more normal rain fall, the first place I would use water from would be the Nac Pipe, leaving Whale rock and Margarita for later usage therefore keeping our reserves for back up.


wineguyjc

Hey “Myself” if the goal was to have Nac Pipe as a first draw back up then you idiots at the City of SLO really missed the mark or is that Marx. Obviously no one has ever held the idiots accountable. Just keep lying and lying, turning in false reports and etc.


Slowerfaster

They should charge for mental sewage.

The self-entitled ‘temporarilly embarrassed millionaires’ that inhabit Happy Town should provide plenty of tax dollars !


hijinks

This article scratches the surface of a very nasty problem — our copiously padded utility bills from the City of SLO. We are told we’re paying for water and sewer service. Nonsense! We’re paying for lots of things besides that with the ridiculous rates we’re charged (and those rates are driving the cost of living in SLO sky high and sky higher year after year — but heck, other than Kathy Smith, all the council are rich, so what do they care?). With our sewer and water charges we’re paying significant portions of the salaries of Katie Lichtig, the city manager, and of the city attorney as well.


Once in a blue moon something surfaces in public that highlights just how corrupt the water and sewer rate charges have become. Two items that miraculously appeared on next week’s council agenda (see these at slocity.org, city council, current agenda reports), just the meeting after the council obligingly raised rates per staff plan, throw a spotlight onto some of the places our sewer and water charges are misused.


In a city financial report, we learn that city hall is raiding about $4 million per year from sewer and water charges to pay for, not sewer and water service, but the general costs of running city hall. For example, about $140k subsidizes Lichtig’s operation, another $100k the city attorney. There’s also $410k that goes to run the city hall IT system! (That’s a lot of computer stuff!) All together, this thievery amounts, as stated above, to about $4 mil per year. $4 mil divided by the number of water/sewer customers would be a very nice rate reduction for all. And they have the nerve, in the accompanying staff report, to refer to this as “best practices.”


The second agenda item is even more weird. In a terse report from Carrie Mattingly we learn that the city has decided to hand over to the Madonnas a half million dollars because of something or other having to do with a sewage lift pump that serves, you guessed it, only the Madonna Inn. Where does this half mil come from? From our sewer fees. All that stands between our half mil and the Madonnas is the council’s approval, which staff is asking for next Tuesday.


The city’s sewer and water charges are as high as they are because they are padded. Ms. Marx, our wonderfully underinformed mayor, is wrong — there are things the city council can do to lower these charges. It’s just that she and the rest don’t care to tell staff “NO.” So the padding continues, and the rate increases come year after year after year.


PS. Don’t forget that moving money around from place to place like they’re doing with utility charges is exactly how they’ve misused Measure Y funds. In fact, they’ve funded next to nothing new on the “promise list,” they just say they have by shifting money here and there and putting up a sign on a dug-up street claiming Y as the source, while the actual funds went into running city hall and paying Lichtig and company way too much. Vote no on Y’s renewal — tricked once, don’t be tricked again.


Al

I don’t live within the City of SLO, is the cost of water and sewer the sum of these?


“As of July 1, the average residential water user will pay $60.64 a month. The average residential sewer user will pay $69.35 a month.”


$129.99/month


Suspect more folks will start trucking in water from the well at the treatment plant, it’s free.


slo Fact Finder

So what ever happened to the city promise that sewer & water rates would only rise for the next 5 years back in 2004 to fund the proposed upgrade of the municipal sewer plant and the Lake Naciemento Pipeline project, during the past 10 years anyway ? ?


TacomaRose

SLO City honoring a promise? Your joking right? That is not how Marx and friends operate … and to think that slo citizens keep electing these numbskulls … Is this a great country or what?


womanwhohasbeenthere

City promises aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. Temporary” taxes and fees and charges NEVER go away. We perpetuate them by voting for Measure Y.


Don’t get fooled again. Vote NO on the Measure Y sales tax increase. It has nothing to do with providing basic services but everything to do with paying higher and higher salaries, adding more unneeded staff and promulgating more costly, unnecessary regulations. The money went to law enforcement (50% of the general fund is police and fire) the first year and continues to go into salaries and benefits.


Is our city any better off now than eight years ago? Where has $47 million gone to improve our city? Ask yourself that before you vote for Measure Y. If we stop the funding, the city will be forced to do what everyone else has had to do – manage within their means.

And pay no attention to the specialized interest groups like the Chamber of Commerce, CAPSLO, public employee unions, bike lobby, and others who benefit from city largesse. Of course they support it! They get money from it.


Myself

Slo city,the county,Pismo, they all gave money away like its free,they all poured money into the Pismo Perserve,like the state needs to take more land off the tax rolls,Slo and the county pour money into crapslo like there is no tomorrow to fund their mega bed refuge for the homeless,like this will help either,people wake up our elected officals are not doing their jobs wisely, but with the last election I can see they people don’t know squat either.


Pete

“In addition to arguing for lower employee pay, Carpenter proposed that the city encourage utilities customers to use more water.”


I was at that meeting and I think the CCN comment about Carpenter is off a bit, I believe he said “the city is encouraging users to use more water” rather than promoting that silly situation himself.

He was right on, the ghastly amount of money we spend on staffing is too much. I think the others ignored him, as they often do when he brings up sensible concepts.


shelworth

Being a Los Osian, I can’t wait to see how much I get to pay!


SLOBIRD

It s not just the water/sewer funds paying these costs (Katie and Christine’s operation costs and salary). The parking fund, transportation and other enterprises also pay lots toward operational and salary costs. That way, general fund money is more readily available for the CC discretionary spending. It is a big scam used in government accounting practices. That way, they can give benefits, higher salaries, matching retirement funds (in addition to the pension plan), annual paid days off in addition in sick, holiday and vacation.


If you go to each enterprise fund (a fund where the revenue is based on fees, i.e. Water, sewer, parking, etc.) and see the contributions made to management expenditures (city manager, attorney, human resources, civil engineer, public works, planning, police, fire, etc.) it would blow your socks off!