The multiyear saga on new water rates in Paso Robles — and the looming fear that the city’s water fund would go broke — appear to be over.
The city’s newest set of water rate increases adopted last month dodged controversy Thursday as critics didn’t submit a protest petition.
Thursday was the last day that a referendum petition against the rates could be filed under Proposition 218, a 1996 voter-approved act that allows for public protest of various government levies.
“We are extremely pleased that the petition was not filed, and the city of Paso Robles can now move forward with the water rates,” said Larry Werner of Water4Paso, a group supporting the increases. “There is the need to pay for the water that we have committed to, and we need the water for the health of the city.”
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The new rates will help fund the city’s share of the recently completed $176 million Nacimiento Water Project. Without a rate increase, staff said the city’s water fund would have gone broke by 2014.
The city needs $13 million a year to meet payments for the project. That’s more than double the $6.3 million in annual revenue the water fund receives under current rates.
In March 2009, a protest petition was filed on another set of water rate increases by Concerned Citizens for Paso Robles. The county clerk-recorder found 1,728 signatures valid then, or 11.3 percent of Paso Robles’ registered voters.
That action forced the City Council at the time to hold a special election, which ultimately led to a ballot measure on rates that failed by 54 percent in November 2009.
This time, a petition needed 1,481 valid signatures to start that process over again. That means 10 percent of the city’s 14,808 registered voters would have needed to sign.
Concerned Citizens has long argued that the rate increases should be considered a special tax, requiring a two-thirds vote under state law, not a fee on a water bill.
Group leader John Borst could not be reached for comment.
But a San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge in October ruled in the lawsuit that the increased rates are not a special tax.
The increased rate structure is set to take effect in 2012.
Rates will go to $2.50 from $1.32 per 748 gallons used. Rates would then increase incrementally in later years before reaching $4.40 per unit in 2015.