Water and sewer rate modifications proposed for the City of Colusa were approved unanimously by the city council last week, as few voters expressed opposition to the changes under the Proposition 218 process.
Because the water and sewer rates are property related fees, changes to those rates do not need to go to the ballot under Proposition 218. Instead, the city was able to send notice of the modifications to property owners, and hold a majority protest hearing “in which silence equals consent.” Those opposed to the rate modifications were required to mail their written protest to the city. During that hearing on July 17, city officials said that there were only three protest letters – which was nowhere near a majority of the city’s water and sewer customers. During the period of public comment, no one spoke in opposition to the proposed rate modifications.
Specific to the water rate adjustments, Mayor Greg Ponciano said that he felt the three protest letters were written under the assumption that water rates would be increased, when for the majority of water users, that wasn’t actually the case. City Manager Jesse Cain added that the “vast majority” of users would actually see a decrease in their water bill.
While the water rate modification will result in a majority of city users paying less for their water, that isn’t the case for their sewer rates. Despite that fact, Cain said the majority of users would actually see a decrease in their overall utility bill, when the adjustments for both sewer and water rates are taken into account.
In regards to the sewer rate adjustment, Ponciano said that he didn’t want the public to get the opinion that the city council was “just arbitrarily raising rates because we like to make money,” but was effectively forced to do so by the state. Ponciano explained that the state, through ever-evolving regulations, effectively dictates how the city must operate its water and sewer treatment plant.
“The state of California changes the rules (and) upgrades what is required from us, and tells us, ‘You need to put $10 million into your sewer water treatment plant in order to meet code, and if you don’t, we’re going to fine you every day,’” Ponciano said. “So the city says, ‘That’s great, but we don’t have $10 million.’ And the state says, ‘No problem, we’ve got you covered: We’ll loan it to you.”
Ponicano continued: “But in order to qualify for the loan, your sewer and water rates have to fall within our scope of what we think is appropriate. A lot of these water and sewer rate changes, in my opinion, are forced to us through the State of California, and the way they operate the water and the sewer systems. It’s an unfortunate place for cities to be, but it is what it is… We have loan obligations to the state we have to keep funded – again, it’s part of the little circle that the State has created. A great income source for themselves, I would imagine.”
Councilman Dave Markss said that while he had a hard time moving to a flat rate for sewer service – regardless of the size of a household – nobody was able to come up with a cost-effective alternative.
“It’s not fair, but at the same time, we’re dropping the base rate down so that you know what your sewer rate is going to be every month, versus a sliding scale,” Markss said.