Over the Hill

Paso Robles water rate increases may be impossible to avoid

The Paso Robles City Council voted in March to raise water rates.
The Paso Robles City Council voted in March to raise water rates. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

John Borst of Paso Robles is again challenging the Paso Robles City Council.

Sunday’s Tribune said Borst is contesting the council’s latest decision to again raise water rates. He has launched a drive to collect signatures on petitions seeking much lower water rates and other changes.

On March 15, the City Council voted unanimously to raise our water bills. I’m a Paso Roblan, too, and I don’t like the increases either, but they may be necessary. The American dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to. I’m sorry I didn’t write about the water-rate increase when the council approved it. I guess I was distracted by the election for the Paso Robles groundwater basin.

So here’s what the City Council did. It raised the price for each unit of water that we use. It also added a fixed monthly charge for all water customers, no matter how much they use. All of that will take effect Jan. 1, 2017. Our present water bills are still based only on the amount of water we use.

The current charge for water in Paso Robles is $4.40 per unit. A unit is 100 cubic feet of water — or 748 gallons.

On Jan. 1, the unit price will go up to $4.83. That will be followed by four annual raises, finally reaching $6.56. Also starting next year, there will be a fixed monthly charge. It will start at $5 per month and, in five years, will climb to $10.

For example, if you use an average of nine units of water per month, you are now charged $39.60. Next year, you’ll be charged $48.47. And in the fifth year, you’ll pay $69.04.

That $69.04 reminds me of a water rate increase proposed back in 2007. Officials already had an estimate of Paso Robles’ costs for getting Lake Nacimiento water.

And Paso Robles already was charging every water customer $12 per month for the Nacimiento project. So the council voted to add $12 to that charge every year until it reached $60 a month.

That plan was eventually scuttled. It was followed by years of hearings, petitions, lawsuits, failed proposals and elections. Finally, some acceptable payment schemes were adopted by the council.

But apparently, those payment arrangements were insufficient. A Water Rate and Revenue Analysis in 2015 by Water Consultancy Inc. reported the city’s annual water operating costs were about $13.6 million, but the revenue was only about $10 million.

And then there’s that 90-year-old 21st Street Reservoir that needs to be replaced before it collapses.

I don’t see any way to avoid the rate increases that the council adopted in March.

P.S. I made an error in last week’s column about the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. Its generating capacity is 2,240 megawatts, not 4,400 as I stated. I’m grateful to you thoughtful readers who emailed me about this mistake. You helped me correct it promptly.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 805-238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.