Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Council aims to raise rates again to pay for water project

From page A1 | March 13, 2013 |

Let’s try this again.

With the approval of Measure I in the bag, the City Council can now take another swing at pumping up water rates to pay for the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency surface water project.

The $113 million project, which earned a 54 percent endorsement by the voters last Tuesday, will draw water from the Sacramento River, pipe it to a treatment facility in eastern Woodland and then pipe it to Davis — as well as into Woodland’s water distribution system — for use as the cities’ new drinking water supply.

The project will cost an estimated $245 million to both Davis and Woodland.

The council first took a stab at raising rates to pay for this project in September 2011. That infamous meeting ended at 3 a.m. with a 3-2 vote in favor of the rate hike, despite about 4,000 protests against it.

But later, the council was forced to rescind that decision after a citizen-driven referendum collected enough signatures to overturn the rates. The council then established a Water Advisory Committee to vet the project in its entirety and put it up for a public vote.

The council will host the public hearing to adopt the rate increases Tuesday at its regularly scheduled meeting. The meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. in the Community Chambers at City Hall, 23 Russell Blvd.

If approved, water rates citywide will more than triple by Jan. 1, 2018.

Ratepayers could strike down the planned rate increases by submitting written protests to the city by the end of the public hearing on Tuesday. However, more than half of the city’s approximately 16,000 ratepayers would have to protest to stay the action.

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 2,000 protests had been filed with the city clerk’s office. Protests may be mailed or delivered in person to the city clerk’s office, 23 Russell Blvd., Suite 4, or turned in at the public hearing.

The protest form must include the property owner’s name, address and signature.

The last time the council attempted to increase water rates through the Proposition 218 process, the city mailed out postcards for people to use as protest forms. City officials elected not to send those protest cards for this go-around.

Instead, members of the No on Measure I campaign have taken a few steps to make it easier for residents to protest. First, the group placed an advertisement in The Enterprise on Feb. 24 that included a protest form that could be clipped out and mailed to the city.

The group also sent out a citywide mailer with an attached postcard that ratepayers could use to protest the rates. More recently, they’ve been tabling at the Davis Farmers Market to spread the word about the increases and ratepayers’ ability to fight them.

To calculate future rates, residents can visit the city’s website at www.cityofdavis.org and access the Water Issues and Rates page under City Quick Links on the home page.

Under the city’s proposed five-year rate schedule, the average single-family home using 15 ccf (hundred cubic feet) per month with a 3/4-inch water meter would pay about $35.78 monthly when the first increase hits on May 1.

By 2018, if the same household consumed the exact same amount of water, its monthly bill would jump to about $98.27, assuming those residents use a combined 120 ccf between May and October.

In addition to the rates themselves, the council also plans to adopt the rate models that determine how the city’s costs are broken down and distributed among the different classes of ratepayers.

As proposed on the Prop. 218 notices, for the first two years, residents will be billed a fixed charge to cover the city’s fixed costs, determined by the size of the water meter — a 3/4-inch meter is the smallest and therefore is charged the least — and then a variable cost for how much water a ratepayer consumes during a given month on an inclining block tiered structure.

For the following three years, however, the council plans to adopt the locally developed consumption-based fixed rate model, created last year by WAC members Frank Loge and Matt Williams.

CBFR breaks down a water bill into three pieces, rather than a traditional, two-pronged rate structure.

The model levies a fixed, readiness-to-serve charge determined by water meter size, a uniform block variable fee that charges water customers the exact same amount per hundred cubic feet (ccf) of water consumed and a third component called the supply charge.

The supply charge would distribute the city’s projected annual fixed revenue requirement among all water customers based on how much water they consume combined during the peak period of the prior year, May through October.

Proponents argue that the reason for setting the CBFR by peak usage is because a water system and all of its associated infrastructure must be built large enough to serve all customers during the highest periods of water use, so those who contribute to the larger sizing of the project should pay more.

The CBFR rate model was one of the highest-profile targets of opponents of the surface water project during the Measure I campaign. The project’s detractors said the rate model charged residents disproportionately or unfairly for the water they consumed.

Several backers of the No on Measure I campaign calling themselves the Yolo Ratepayers for Affordable Public Utility Services also have filed a lawsuit against the city with Yolo Superior Court because they believe the rates are unconstitutional.

The lawsuit had not been served to the city as of Monday afternoon.

— Reach Tom Sakash at tsakash@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash



Tom Sakash

Tom Sakash covers the city beat for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at tsakash@davisenterprise.net, (530) 747-8057 or @TomSakash.


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