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Bob Dunning

Bob Dunning: Ready or not, here comes CBFR

By From page A2 | April 30, 2014

This is your final warning. Yes, the much-discussed, much-maligned and intricately complicated consumption-based fixed rate system of billing residents of Davis for the water they use kicks in tomorrow.
As the kids say in hide-and-seek, “Ready or not, here I come.”
Beginning tomorrow, you will be billed 13 separate times for the water you use from May 1 through Oct. 31. If you thought 13 was an unlucky number, wait until you see your water bill come next January.
You will be billed initially for the water you use in May on your regular monthly bill. Additionally, and more importantly, you will be billed for that same water every single month of the year in 2015.
In other words, the water you use in May of 2014 will continue to show up on your monthly bill through December of 2015, a full 20 months down the road.
If that sounds positively strange, it’s because it is positively strange.
By contrast, the city of Woodland, our partner in crime in the Great Water Project that Will Save the World, simply bills people month by month by month as they use the water. No CBFR and no rate increase for summer usage versus winter usage.
Now, as much as I hate to give Woodland credit for doing something more intelligent than the Second Most Educated City in America, there’s no escaping it. Their rate structure is fair and straightforward and easy to understand. Ours isn’t.
In fact, I sat down with one of our elected officials a while back, handed him a piece of paper and a freshly sharpened No. 2 pencil, gave him some hypothetical water use numbers for the six months between May and October, and asked him to calculate an imaginary customer’s bill.
After five minutes of tomfoolery and a whole bunch of tom-fakery, he sheepishly admitted he had no idea how the CBFR worked. Nevertheless, he voted to impose that very rate structure on the rest of us.
So here’s how it works. Let’s go to May 1 of 2017, when the truly scary part of these rates takes full effect.
Let’s say you’re one of those poor souls who can’t afford to leave town in the summer and you do like to put a little water on your backyard apricot tree and the short row of beefsteak tomatoes you lovingly tend among the rocks and cactus in your converted front yard.
For ease of calculation, let’s further say you average 15 ccf for each of the six months of the city-defined “endless summer” from May 1 to Oct. 31.
First, you will pay a monthly charge of $1.12 per ccf, multiplied by the 15 ccf used, for a total of $16.80. So far, that doesn’t sound so bad.
But the city will add all that summer usage together for a total of 90 ccf used from May through October. That 90 ccf will be billed at a rate of 54 cents per ccf ($48.60), and that $48.60 will be added to your monthly bill each and every month in the year 2018 for an annual CBFR “add-on” of $583.20. Plus your regular monthly use charges and your regular monthly distribution fee ($13.67 for most users).
When you’re shocked by that sudden addition to your bill, you may decide to rectify things by going on a sudden and drastic water diet.
But, no matter how hard you try and no matter how much you conserve, that added monthly charge will stick with you like a bad cold and will not be reduced by a single penny for an entire year. Even if you move to Palm Springs and have your Davis water shut off completely.
The city calls the CBFR a “supply fee,” but no matter how much lipstick you put on the language, this “fee” is based solely, strictly, absolutely and exclusively on the amount of water you use during the six months of summer. Times 12. (Which doesn’t count the 13th time you paid for the water at the time you used it.)
Now, there are some brave souls who argue that a gallon is a gallon is a gallon. They further argue that the city should simply charge everyone the same fixed rate per gallon at the time they use the water, just like we are charged for milk, gasoline, orange juice and ice-cold Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.
That, unfortunately, would not enhance our carefully cultivated image as the City that Does Things Differently, with the first-in-the-world CBFR as our poster child.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]

Bob Dunning

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