Local News

Committee needs more time to recommend water rates

By From page A1 | June 13, 2014

The clock is ticking.

The seven-member Utility Rate Advisory Committee’s running effort to agree on recommended water rates for the City Council to approve in early July is taking longer than the council seemed to think it would.

July is a deadline for the water-rate approval process to be completed by October to qualify the city for low-interest state financing for the surface-water project it is undertaking with Woodland.

On Thursday night, the committee found the track was too long to make it to the finish line without another meeting on June 19. The City Council hoped to have the final recommendations in hand for a June 17 study session. The committee’s new goal is to have a recommendation by June 24.

The committee wrestled with all kinds of issues related to water rates, such as cost per unit and the correct ratio of variable charges to fixed charges. Members even ran the numbers and financing prospects for water rate lawsuit plaintiff John Munn’s suggestion of a totally volumetric rate, in other words, a rate that charged for the entire system gallon by gallon, just like pumping gasoline into your car.

Members determined it to be too expensive for each measurement of water, called a ccf, and because there was no fixed rate, revenue could vary widely depending on usage. The committee agreed that it would be hard for the market to finance such a structure at a good interest rate.

Some issues were patently philosophical, such as what is fairness? What is equity? What is conservation? How important is doing what financing institutions want?

By the end of the evening, committee member Johannes Troost looked at the other issues the group will tackle later in the year, like the contract with Davis Waste Removal for garbage, a sewer rate discussion and electrical services options.

Some of the members had deep knowledge of water rates, Troost said, but the committee would have more of a learning curve when it comes to some other issues. Would a timetable like they were facing for water rates come up again?

“I don’t want to have to make a rushed decision,” he said.

Troost also was the architect of the idea from the committee’s June 5 meeting that it use a matrix to send to the City Council to illustrate the committee’s thoughts on each of seven proposed water rates. The committee started with eight columns of criteria for the seven water rates, but by Thursday night’s end seemed to have 10 columns.

Other members said the committee would have to edit the matrix down, but many members were intent on requesting more information from city staff, represented by Herb Niederberger, general manager of utilities, and consultant Douglas Dove of Bartle Wells and Associates.

Committee members wanted a histogram of the true cost per gallon or unit that ratepayers pay. They wanted a legal analysis of all seven proposed rates, ranging from traditional two-step rates to a pay-as-you-go consumption-based rate with no look-back period.

Committee members wanted to know, once and for all, whether allegations that the consumption-based rate had unfair summer charges versus winter charges are correct.

Chairwoman Elaine Roberts Musser suggested the committee members fill out their own matrices and use them individually to make their recommendations at the June 19 meeting.

— Reach Dave Ryan at [email protected] or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews

Dave Ryan

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