Over the Hill

Paso Robles needs to explain why water rate hikes are needed

Upon opening our mailbox earlier this month, I found a long envelope from the City of Paso Robles.

“What’s this?” I thought. “I’m sure I paid the water and sewer bill.”

Well, it wasn’t a bill. It was a long document that began, “Dear Property Owner/Tenant.” It covered both sides of the paper, so I looked on the back to see whether it was signed by the mayor, city manager or public works director. There was no signature. I suspect it was written by the city attorney.

I looked again at the front of it and saw it had a title: “Notice of Public Hearing Regarding Proposed Increases in Water Rates.” And I thought, “Here we go again.”

All you Roblans and regular readers of The Tribune know that the Paso Robles City Council struggled from 2007 through 2011 to produce our present water rates. And even then, there was a pending lawsuit, which the city finally and successfully wound up in October 2012. The opponents of the water rate increases were stubborn, to say the least.

In the beginning, even I had to admit the city’s first rate-increase proposal was haywire.

In 2007, Paso Roblans were already paying $12 per month for the Nacimiento Water Project as part of their water bills. The proposed rate scheme would have increased that monthly $12 by another $12 every year until it reached $60 per month — no matter how little water you used.

That proposal failed and led to four years of protests, petitions, lawsuits, ballot measures and more failed rate proposals.

Finally, one proposal succeeded. It charges only for the amounts of water customers actually use. It started in 2012 at $2.50 per water unit (748 gallons) and increased yearly. It ends in 2016 at $4.40 per unit.

The proposed new rates would start in 2017 at $4.97 per unit and rise to $6.76 in 2021. But wait, there’s more. There will also be a new fixed charge every month no matter how much water you use. It starts at $5 in 2017 and rises to $10 in 2021.

The hearing notice says the added money is needed to replace the 90-year-old 21st Street reservoir, to increase water treatment and to pay for many other important needs.

The City Council will hold the protest hearing on this rate increase at City Hall at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 19. If the majority of identified water customers submit written protests during or before that hearing, the council can’t impose these rate increases.

Looking at history, I respectfully suggest that the City Council work long and hard at explaining to Paso Robles residents why the increases are needed. I also respectfully suggest the council enlist city officials and a citizens committee to carry the explanations to every possible Paso Robles resident.

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 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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