Editorial: Water rate hikes necessary for Paso Robles’ livelihood

With only one measure on the Nov. 3 ballot, Paso Robles voters may be tempted to skip out on the special election. They shouldn’t — not if they care about the city’s future.

We strongly urge voters to approve Measure A-09. It will authorize water rate increases that will finance the Nacimiento Water Project and pay for some much-needed improvements to the city’s aging and debilitated water delivery system.

These aren’t discretionary expenditures that can be put off until the economy improves. The city of Paso Robles has committed to the Nacimiento project, and it is legally obligated to pay its share.

If voters don’t agree to rate increases, the money still will have to be raised, one way or another — even if it means siphoning money away from police, fire and other essential services.

That’s frightening, but it could occur if a small group of citizens is successful in blocking city efforts to pass water rate increases.

Among other arguments, these opponents contend:

Current residents will not receive any benefits from the Nacimiento project and, therefore, should not have to pay for it.

That’s ludicrous. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that water supplies aren’t keeping pace with current demands. Water shortages already have triggered mandatory conservation measures in some Central Coast communities — Paso Robles included — and the situation will worsen as the drought continues.

New development should have to pay for the project.

This implies that newcomers will be paying no extra charges. The fact is, new development will be paying substantially more for water. Hook-up fees per unit will almost double, going to $23,500 from the current $12,000.

The city’s pro-growth policies are triggering the need for the Nacimiento project.

Even if the city were to stop all growth, there still would be a need for additional water. The groundwater basin that supplies much of the city’s water doesn’t end at the city limits. It extends far beyond the boundaries of Paso Robles, serving agriculture and other users in outlying communities. The city is powerless to prohibit growth in those areas, which means demands on the basin will continue to increase.

The city has been charging its customers an $18-a-month water fee for the Nacimiento project, and no additional money is needed to pay off the bonds for the project.

The $18-a-month fee generates $2.2 million per year — not even close to the $5.2 million needed annually to pay off the debt and cover operations and maintenance. And while the city has built up some reserves in its water funds, those will finance the Nacimiento project for only a few years.

Bottom line: The city needs additional revenue to pay for expensive — but absolutely necessary — water projects.

We believe water rate increases are the most logical and equitable way to generate this revenue.

While no one likes to pay more for utilities, especially in this horrible economy, typical households will pay less than $10 more per month initially, and after five years, will pay about $15 more per month. That’s the cost of a pizza.

Keep in mind, too, that water bills will be based in part on usage, so frugal customers will be rewarded with lower bills. We believe that’s the best way to encourage conservation.

By agreeing to participate in the Nacimiento project, the city has provided its residents with an insurance policy, giving them peace of mind that there will be a dependable water supply not only for them, but also for their children and grandchildren.

By approving Paso Robles Measure A-09, voters will give the city the ability to pay the bill for the benefits the Nacimiento Water Project will provide.

How much will it cost?

A small family currently paying $31 per month for water will pay $34 starting in January. The rates will gradually rise over five years, to $43 a month in 2014.

A larger family of four currently paying $43 would pay $50 starting in January, and $68 in 2014.