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Public hearing on water rate increases unfolds Tuesday night at council meeting

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From page A1 | March 19, 2013 | Leave Comment

The City Council will host the long-awaited public hearing Tuesday night to raise water rates citywide. The hearing will take place during the council’s meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the Community Chambers of City Hall, 23 Russell Blvd.

It will be broadcast live on Comcast Channel 16 and AT&T U-verse Channel 99. The meeting also will be streamed live online at www.cityofdavis.org/media.

Unless a sufficient number of water ratepayers protest the rate increases, which were sent to all property owners last month, the council will have the ability to raise rates over the next five years and essentially triple the average Davis water bill.

The city needs the higher rates to begin paying off Davis’ $113 million share of the $245 million Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency surface water project, among other maintenance and operational costs associated with the city’s water utility.

The project will pump water from the Sacramento River, treat it and pipe it to Davis and Woodland, largely replacing each city’s groundwater supplies. The project was approved by Davis voters in the March 5 election on Measure I.

The increases would inflate the city’s annual water enterprise fund revenue total from $10 million to $23 million by 2018.

Written protests objecting to the rate increases may be turned in Tuesday to the city clerk’s office in Suite 4 at City Hall, and will be accepted at Tuesday’s meeting until the council closes the public hearing.

More than half of the city’s approximately 16,500 ratepayers must submit written protests to stop the council from adopting the rate increases. As of last week, the city had received more than 1,200 “unverified” protests.

The city clerk will conduct a cursory review of the protests upon closure of the public hearing tonight. If the amount of protests appear to number “manifestly” less than half of the property owners in Davis, the clerk may advise the council that the absence of a majority protest exists and the council may proceed with adoption of the rates, if it so chooses.

If the cursory review is not definitive, the clerk must tabulate the total number of protests to determine the outcome. Under that scenario, the council would have to close the public hearing and determine when and where the tabulation would occur.

Staff recommends to disband Water Advisory Committee

In addition to adopting the rate increases, city staff will recommend that the council officially conclude the service of its Water Advisory Committee and, in its place, appoint a utility rate advisory committee to guide the council on future general utility rate decisions, such as for sewer and trash collection services.

In 2012, the water committee pulled back the curtain on the surface water project to scrutinize its every detail to fully vet the project for the council and the public.

The group’s landmark decisions included voting unanimously in favor of conjunctive use — drawing both surface water and groundwater —recommending 8-2 that the council pursue surface water through the Woodland-Davis water project and recommending the innovative consumption-based fixed rate model to charge residents for water. The rate model was created by committee members Frank Loge and Matt Williams.

However, as the committee’s chief remaining charge is to consider costs associated with the water utility, Herb Niederberger, the city’s general manager of utilities, development and operation, recommends ending the WAC’s work and grouping those discussions and decisions in with that of a new general utility rate-focused committee.

Another task yet to be tackled by the water committee, to assess the city’s 20 percent conservation goal by 2020, could be delegated to the Natural Resources Commission, staff believes.

If the council does not want to form the new utility rate committee, staff says the work could be taken on by the NRC or the Finance and Budget Commission.

If the WAC is disbanded, staff also recommends hosting a ceremonial presentation to recognize its members’ service.

— 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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