Council asks for clarification on $1.5M sewer/water fee increase

March 29, 2000
Santa Paula City Council
Big ticket items - including those that could require an annual increase of $1.5 million tacked on to water and sewer bills - were discussed by the City Council at the March 20 meeting. Fee increases would be poured into water and sewer capital improvement reserve funds; other items that are “financially sizable” according to City Manager Peter Cosentini, are maintenance programs for storm drain systems, street lights and alleys and parking lots that would be funded through special district taxes.The water and sewer fees would collect $1.5 million annually, the concept being “that you raise fees now to get cash in hand to put into a reserve fund so that the City Council could replace, in an ongoing way, the infrastructure of water and sewer.”Alternatives would be to wait until “something needs to be replaced and then float a bond, or borrow the money, to make the improvements, and then raise the fees to cover the bonded indebtedness,” a concept currently being pursued in the implementation of the recycling program.Councilman Jim Garfield said he was concerned with the fee increase for water and sewer and asked if city staff has any numbers on what it would cost each customer. “My concern is if we create a sinking fund it would probably mean a fairly large increase in fees. . .”Vice Mayor Don Johnson asked what water and sewer infrastructure includes and Cosentini noted, “I assume it includes a sewer plant.”Johnson said the city will have no say if the wastewater plant is expanded or not as the state is mandating improvements in water quality. “We have no choice but to expand. . .the question arises that the expansion of the facility means lots and lots of money. We’d end up floating some kind of a bond to pay for that,” whether there was set-aside money in the coffers or not.Public Works Director/City Engineer Norm Wilkinson said the city has been “doing ‘pay as you go’ to the tune of about a couple of hundred thousand a year. . .a treatment plant would have to be a bond, there’s no other way.”
Johnson noted he envisions borrowing funds for the treatment plant and raising rates for ongoing maintenance.“I agree we would have to have some combination system,” for funding, said Wilkinson and he expects to have a recommendation in the near future. He noted that preliminary estimates for a new plant including debt service could be $15 million.Mayor Rick Cook said he wants to see numbers relating to the potential fee increases as well as for a new wastewater treatment plant.Staff provide a more detailed report, including projected customer costs.In 1998, the city’s failed Measure L utility tax was projected to raise approximately $880,000 annually from customers, about $100 each user a year. Using the same formula, to raise $1.5 million could cost each water/sewer user about $170 a year.

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