Workshop on sewer, water
rates set for August 11

August 06, 2014
Santa Paula News

The city will finally sit down with the public for a worshop regarding water and sewer rates but chances are residents aren’t going to be happy with the results.

The last time the public and city met regarding spiraling water and sewer rates - particularly sewer as well as a controversial sewage-processing surcharge - was in May 2013.

The workshop will be held Monday, August 11, 6:30 p.m. at the Community Center, 530 W. Main St.

Rates for water and sewer have long been a sore spot for residents: at the special July 28 meeting Delton Lee Johnson said during public comment, “It’s time to do something about water rates, not talk about it but do something... “

He noted Councilman Ralph Fernandez had voted against the 2008 rate increase and Councilman Martin Hernandez was not yet on the council so “We can’t blame you,” but Johnson said the issue must be resolved once and for all. 

At the upcoming workshop, “There’s a lot of positives you’re going to like,” said Mayor Rick Cook, “and a lot of negatives you won’t like... “

Cook, who with Councilman Bob Gonzales serves on a special ad hoc committee studying rates, noted, “We need as much input as we can get... “

According to the city’s announcement “The City of Santa Paula City Council is considering making changes to the rates it charges for water and sewer service, in order to give citizens a forum for their opinions, the Council invites all members of the community to attend this public workshop on the proposed water and sewer rates and methodology.”

The workshop will be pretty dry: it will cover current water and sewer rates and methodology and new proposed water and sewer rate structure and methodology. 

“The City Council values feedback from all members of the community as it strives to make the best policy decisions for its citizens. Input, suggestions and ideas are welcome throughout this process.”

The process of getting to the upcoming workshop has actually been out of the public eye: The Ad Hoc Committee was first suggested by then-Mayor Gonzales at a September 2012 meeting and adopted by the council the next month. Gonzales volunteered to sit on the panel and suggested Cook serve with him. 

Although several council members discussed public participation in the meetings, Gonzales stressed work-study sessions with professionals in the field of water and energy issues should be undertaken in private; the subcommittee would then return to the council with recommendations and a proposal.

Since 2009-2010, water rates have increased from $17.82 a month to $22.35 2011-2012. The present $24.57 rate was implemented fiscal year 2012-2013.

Monthly sewer rates, which had been $42.68 since 2006, were increased to $59.39 in 2009-2010. The following year the rate jumped to $77.21 and has remained the same since 2010. 

The controversial sewer surcharge fee of 0.58 cents per 100 cubic feet was initiated in November 2011 and subsequently almost doubled to $1.12 per 100 cubic feet.

Refinance efforts for the city’s wastewater recycling facility - completed in June 2011 - have languished for years.

The approximately $60-million facility was a Design/Build/Operate/Finance project; the plant is privately owned by Santa Paula Water LLC. 

At the end of the 30-year financing the cost of the facility will be about $125 million; the plant would then belong to the city. It would cost the city approximately $70 million to now purchase the facility that was approved by the council in 2008 on a 3-2 vote. 

With its $77-plus flat rate, Santa Paula already has one of the highest sewage rates in Ventura County. The sewage surcharge has long been questioned by critics who note that fees are based on all water usage including that for landscaping, not only water requiring sewage plant treatment. The city initially announced it would use the winterization model for sewage rates when the fees were first adopted in 2008, but the study was never done and the fee model never adopted.

The August 11 workshop will be broadcast on Time Warner Cable Channel 10.

For more information, contact the Public Works Department, 933-4212 ext 305.

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