Paso adopts water rate plan for Nacimiento project

The Paso Robles City Council on Tuesday adopted a new water rate structure, moving forward with a new flat-rate plan to pay for its share of the Nacimiento Water Project.

The unanimous vote came two months after council members approved a new set of uniform rates that eliminates an $18 fixed fee and charges all users the same per-gallon cost for water used.

The plan adopted Tuesday increases rates from $1.32 to $2.50 per unit of water — or 748 gallons — starting in January 2011. Rates then increase gradually in subsequent years before reaching $4.40 per unit in 2015.

City administrators have said the rate increases are needed to meet the Paso Robles’ water system debt obligations and operating costs. The city needs $13 million a year to meet those commitments, Public Works Director Doug Monn wrote in a report to the council, more than double the current annual revenue of $6.3 million.

The city must start paying for the pipeline this summer.

“Without a water rate increase,” Monn wrote, “the water fund will go broke by 2014.”

Water rates have long been the subject of a contentious debate that has included numerous other rate plans, rate recalls, petition drives and a failed ballot measure in November. The city received 609 written protests to the new rate plan.

Concerned Citizens for Paso Robles, a group that has vocally opposed raising rates, has about 10 active members who argue that rate increases to pay for the pipeline should be presented as a special tax, not as a charge on a water bill.

Meanwhile, a competing group of residents, business owners and community activists appeared before the council Tuesday to publicly support the uniform water rate.

Water4Paso members said they are committed to maintaining affordable water rates for Paso Robles, and to making sure the city water users pay for Nacimiento water.

The plan is now slated to return to the council April 20 for final adoption.

It becomes effective 30 days later unless a referendum petition with 10 percent of registered voters is submitted. The council would then have to decide whether to rescind the rates or call for a special election.

Tribune staff writer Amy Dempsey contributed to this report.