Long time readers of this blog must be feeling a bit of deja vu. We have been down this road many times over the last ten years. Rate and tax increases seem to come down here on a two year cycle, and usually right after a City Council election has been held. This instance fits that pattern, with the last water rate increases happening in 2014, and 2016 being a utility tax year.
Proposed are water rate hikes, sewer rate hikes, tier width adjustments, and the usual balderdash about meter sizes. Below are the water rate increases, before and after. You can link to all of that rhythm in its original setting here.
As you can see, the increases are to those with 3" and 4" meter sizes. The big boys, and not most residential users. But remember, there are also the other increase categories as well, which you will have to look up for yourself. Hopefully you'll be able explain all that to me in the comments. As always, things are not immediately clear. Water rate adjustment processes being famous for their transparency challenges.
Here was the rationale for all of this in a staff report issued on May 9, 2017 (link). This was where the umpteenth rehiring of Raftellis was discussed. They were rehired at considerable expense and have been busily working on this for the last year.
In the agenda report for this item, which is the last one on tomorrow's schedule, there are some tweaks to the rationales for charging residents more for water. Here is how this is all justified now.
Pretty vague in my opinion, but these things often are. Coming right on the heels of that $1,000,000 dollar water meter spend however, asking for more money now does seem insensitive. But I suspect City Hall is not too worried about it.
This will be a Proposition 218 "process," meaning you do have the right to run around town trying to get people to sign paperwork protesting these increases. It is a lot of great exercise, but has been something residents have never quite been able to pull off in the past. We came close once, but then City Manager Elaine Aguilar threw out just enough signatures to guarantee that particular Prop 218 effort failed.
The Proposition 218 election process requires a 45-day notice and a public hearing.
At the direction of Council, staff will mail protest ballots (Attachment C) to explain the process as well as findings for the proposed new rates.
All protests will be due at City Hall on July 24, 2018. If 50% +1 one of the needed protests are not received at the public hearing scheduled for that evening, then the water (etc.) rate increases will go through. The staff report does not say 50% +1 of what, so that will need to be asked about.
One O'clock Update
I've been emailing back and forth with City Manager Gabe Engeland today, a fellow who somehow has remained committed to the fine art of transparency despite having worked here for a while. It does look like this will not be a very radical rate increase, and except for a very few unfortunate souls almost all will escape the unholy wrath of Water Wise Owl. This is what Gabe had to say:
"Here is the chart breaking down our water meters size by number of meters. The 3” and 4” meters are typically institutional use, though they are relatively scarce in town. There are 8 meters in Sierra Madre that are 3” and 1 meter that is 4”, so a total of 9 meters out of 3,873 fall into this category. Apartments tend to have 1.5” or 2”, though this number will vary, and apts may have multiple meters serving the property.
It appears that unless you are one of those nine places with 3 inch or 4 inch water meters, you are going to get yourself a water rate decrease. I know, be still all of our troubled hearts. And if you are the proud owner of one of those nine afflicted facilities?
You're not going to be as happy as everybody else. Or at least that would be my understanding at this particular moment in time.
I'll let you know if any of that changes.