Paso Robles City Council approves new water fees

The Paso Robles City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to approve a new uniform structure water rate without a fixed fee to pay for its share of the Nacimiento Water Project.

Water customers now pay $1.32 per unit of water -- or 748 gallons -- plus a fixed fee of $18. Under the uniform plan, the $18 fee would be dropped and users would be required to pay $2.50 per unit starting in 2011, increasing gradually to $4.40 per unit in 2015. The new costs will be split between current residents and new development over a period reaching to 2025.

The council's approval means notices will be mailed to the city's property owners and water customers to let them know of the upcoming changes to their water bills and their rights to protest them, under Proposition 218 -- a voter-approved act that mandates a public review of local government levies.

The council is then expected to adopt the rates at a later date.

On Jan. 26, council members reviewed the latest three proposals in the city's fifth attempt to pass a new rate methodology. They chose not to go with a tiered-rate structure because it was complicated and, they said, would unfairly charge businesses more money.

The city must start paying for the pipeline this summer when the water turns on. The delay in securing a rate, mostly caused by backlash from the Concerned Citizens for Paso Robles, means that water customers will begin paying for water they can't use for at least another two years. That's because the new rates will also pay for a treatment plant to make the water drinkable.

Concerned Citizens argues that the rate increases to pay for the pipeline should be presented as a special tax, not as a charge on a water bill, leader John Borst said.

Those who spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday's meeting ranged from Borst arguing for the council to take the public closer to "liberty and justice for all" to resident Larry Werner complaining that city had been "hijacked" by the Concerned Citizens and that their arguments are no longer credible to him.

-Tonya Strickland