Paso water rate plan appears to be trailing

Paso Robles' absentee voters are leaning toward disapproval of the new water rate plan proposed to them by the city to pay for its share of the Nacimiento Water Project.

Fifty-six percent of absentee voters – or 2,240 people – voted no on the rate plan. About 44 percent of voters – or 1,754 people – voted yes, according to unofficial election results released by the San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tuesday evening.

The results represent nearly 4,000 absentee ballots counted as of Monday.

Polling place results from Tuesday's election will be released between 10 and 11 p.m. Tuesday, officials said. The polls closed at 8 p.m.

If voters ultimately reject the rate plan, the city will have to develop a new rate plan while tapping into its reserves when the pipeline bills start coming in 2010.

The water rates election came after backlash from the Concerned Citizens for Paso Robles, a North County citizens group. Its members have said the capital costs for the Nacimiento pipeline and related infrastructure should have been presented as a special tax — not a charge on a water bill, amongother arguments. The group's petition drive last spring led to the issue going before the voters Tuesday.

The city attorney has long said Paso Robles has acted within the law when it proposed rates to pay for the costs.

In the rate plan that went before voters Tuesday, a method called "pay as you go," would raise the average family's monthly water bill to $49.95 in 2010 and to $63.65 in 2013. Those sums include an $18 fixed rate per bill plus a variable rate based on how much water each household or business uses.