Over the Hill

Voting down water rate increase will hurt Paso

Last week, the voters here in Paso Robles found election ballots in their mail. We’re going to vote Nov. 3 in a special election on increasing our water rates.

I hope none of my fellow Paso Roblans toss away those ballots or lose them. This special election is especially important. If the voters reject the rate increases, our city could be crippled financially for many years.

That’s because since 2004 this city’s been legally committed to a partnership in the Nacimiento pipeline project. That pipeline will ensure our drought-susceptible city has a dependable, additional water supply of 4,000 acre-feet per year. The pipeline is nearly complete and Paso Robles starts paying for it next year.

Our city must pay its share of the pipeline-construction bond payments and the pipeline operating costs. Paso Robles also has to build its own treatment plant because the lake water must be treated before humans can use it. There are also a few other costs. All together, it’s several million dollars per year.

To get money to pay those bills, the City Council voted last February to raise water rates. Right now, a typical family pays an average of $43.08 a month for 14,200 gallons. Next year, that would rise to $49.95. In 2014, it would be $68.20.

In April, a group of opponents got enough petitions signed to force an election on the rate increases.

Of course nobody wants increased water rates. We also hate higher prices for groceries, cable TV and everything else, but they are a fact of life these days.

So what happens if the majority of Roblans vote “no” on Nov. 3? Well, then Paso Robles wouldn’t get the income it needs to cover its share of the bond payments and its share of the pipeline operating costs. But it will still have to make those payments because it signed a legally enforceable contract.

Also, if the voters reject the increases, the city won’t get the money it needs to build the water treatment plant. So, it won’t be able to use any of that Nacimiento Lake water that it’s legally bound to pay for.

The millions of dollars per year for the Nacimiento-related costs would have to come from the city’s general fund, which usually pays for police and fire protection, parks and recreation, street maintenance and other city services.

So please mark your calendar to vote Nov. 3. And if you vote by mail, please mark your ballot “yes” and mail it today.

Contact Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.