Tuesday night, Paso Robles City Councilmen took another swing at raising water rates. It was their sixth swing in five years. Their first five swings were strikes and foul balls.
Their first swing at a rate increase, in 2007, drew widespread opposition. I thought it was poorly thought-out (I live in Paso Robles). It would have raised our monthly fixed charge to $60. Eventually some of the opponents organized themselves as the Concerned Citizens for Paso Robles.
But after awhile, the councilmen managed to improve their swing. I could have lived with their last few proposals. The opposition seemed to dwindle to a handful of diehards.
But they were resolutely committed to the doctrine that water rates are taxes, and therefore require an election with approval by two-thirds of the voters.
But after the council approved a rate increase last year, the opponents didn’t seek a referendum election. Instead a few of them filed a lawsuit. They lost. The judge ruled the water rate increase wasn’t a tax. It didn’t require an election.
But he did say the rate-increase notices mailed out by the city were legally insufficient. So the City Council had to start over. Tuesday, the council again approved the same new rate they tried last year.
It would start next January at $2.50 per 100 cubic feet of water used. That would increase yearly to reach $4.40 on Jan. 1, 2016. The current $18 fixed base-fee would be eliminated. The city will explain this in detail in mailed notices.
City officials say the city’s present water rates don’t generate enough income to cover the water system’s expenses. In the 2011-12 fiscal year, officials expect $5.6 million in income and $9.7 million in expenses.
Those expenses include the annual payment for Paso’s share of Nacimiento-pipeline water.
That’s been put at $5.2 million. But none of us Roblans may drink any that Nacimiento water until 2017.
That’s because the city’s required treatment plant couldn’t be built without the rate increases. San Luis Obispans are already drinking their Nacimiento water.
And don’t forget, the water-rate opponents filed another lawsuit in 2009. It’s still grinding its way through the court system. It seeks to outlaw the water and sewer rate increases that the City Council approved in 2002.
A claim of $8 million has been mentioned. Sometimes people seem willing to create havoc to validate their interpretations of the law.
And times are tough already. Paso Robles is going to need all of its astuteness and pioneer spirit.
Reach Phil Dirkx at firstname.lastname@example.org or 238-2372.