Tuesday night the Paso Robles City Council voted to increase water rates. I wonder what the Concerned Citizens for Paso Robles and their leader, John Borst, will do now.
The council has tried since 2007 to raise water rates. Last year, the Concerned Citizens blocked a proposed rate increase by filing a lawsuit. The year before that, it thwarted a different proposed increase by forcing a referendum election, which the city lost.
I hope the Concerned Citizens try for an election this time. It might be cheaper for the city than a lawsuit. And I think this time the city would win the election. The proposal approved Tuesday is fair and reasonable. Of course, I’d prefer no lawsuit and no referendum.
Many Paso Roblans now see water rate increases as needed. Some have formed a committee called Water4Paso to campaign for the increase. The city needs the increase mainly to pay for its share of Nacimiento pipeline water.
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In 2004, the City Council signed up for 4,000 acre-feet of Nacimiento water per year. The pipeline is now constructed and carrying water.
Paso Robles is already paying for it out of reserves, but the city can’t use a drop because it is lake water and must be thoroughly treated. The city, however, can’t build a treatment plant without a rate increase.
The city’s first rate-increase proposal in 2007 wasn’t well thought-out. In addition to charging for the water you used, it also charged a flat Nacimiento fee of $60 per month, no matter how little water you used.
It drew widespread opposition, including from the Concerned Citizens group. The council dropped it.
In subsequent years, the council tried other increase proposals. None succeeded. Last year’s proposal had no flat fee, and if you use five billing units or less per month you would actually pay less during the next five years. But the Concerned Citizens still filed a lawsuit.
The judge ruled the Concerned Citizens were wrong, but he also said the city’s notice wasn’t complete enough.
On Tuesday, the council approved exactly the same increase that it approved last year but with more elaborate notices. Opponents now have 30 days from Tuesday to get 15 percent of the city’s registered voters to sign referendum petitions.
Four thousand reliable acre-feet of Nacimiento water per year in this semiarid region are well worth paying for. Paso Robles is also legally bound to pay its Nacimiento payments. But paying them without increased water rates will inevitably degrade other vital city services.
Reach Phil Dirkx at firstname.lastname@example.org or 238-2372.