New rates for water, sewer in January, but its not a given they’ll go up

April 21, 2017
Santa Paula News

New water and sewer rates will likely take effect January 2018 but its not a given that they’ll go up.

The first meeting of the Standing Committee on Water and Sewer Rates — Mayor Jenny Crosswhite and Councilman Martin Hernandez met April 13, in a workshop type atmosphere to discuss the study that rate changes would be based on.

Vice Mayor Ginger Gherardi attended as a member of the public, the only member of the public to attend the first session with consultant Greg Clumpner of NBS and city staff.

There has been several study sessions of water and sewer rates: in 2008 rates were raised when enough voters did not object in a Prop. 218 protest vote.

Another study by Clumpner was done in 2013 and updated a year later. A council Ad Hoc Committee  was formed to study issues but after one public session the rest of the meetings were held behind closed doors. That was something the present council said they wanted to avoid when they decided earlier this year to form the committee.

Finance Director Sandy Easley said she has provided Clumpner with records covering several past years as well as other financial documents.

Changes recommended in the 2013 study, such as winter rates, were not implemented.

Clumpner said “We have to factor in the waste water treatment plant…that’s always been the intention, a fixed cost and then winter water consumption. That has a lot of advantages to the people that don’t use that much water, their average winter consumption is going to be fairly low,” while still ensuring the coffers for the waste water treatment plant, purchased by the city in recent years, have “financial planning alternatives,” and a balance for maintenance and other costs.

NBS will also review the potential capital upgrade projects from the plant’s new operator, American Water, which took over the contract April 17. They will have 60 days to review the plant for capital equipment needs and report on same.

There have been many changes in water and its delivery including lawsuits against tier pricing, the drought and other factors — one that is always looming is the political side of raising fees.

Crosswhite said she needs detailed numbers especially as they pertain to the sewer plant: “When it comes to how much things cost us,” the council has never had a detailed breakdown. 

And, she noted, “There’s a lot of moving pieces since the last report…now we have to make sure we’re covering capital improvements, I don’t have a sense of that,” and the parameters of what the Standing Committee is working with.

Clumpner said not all is lost: “There’s nothing preventing you,” as finances with the plant — now funded by bonds, which slashed the interest rate almost in half from what as being charged by the builder and investor — strengthen.

Rates, he added, could be lowered 10 percent to 12 percent in such a case.

After more discussion Clumpner noted, “Nothing to do with rates is fair, it’s just is my bill going up or going down,” which is important to the consumer.

Hernandez asked about the sewer installation fee, which he said at $2,500 is about $1,000 less than other cities in the county.

Fire Chief Rick Araiza said there is also a new law concerning granny flats that will impact hookups. City Attorney John Cotti is working on a report on adhering to these new laws including impacts to water and sewer consumption.

Gherardi asked as a question as a member of the public about the sewer hookup fees paid for East Area 1 and if they would be at the higher projected charge.

“No, that was already in the deal,” said Araiza of the 1,500 home development, now known as Harvest at Limoneira.

She also asked about rebates — Santa Paula sewer customers received one $60 rebate on their sewer, a credit initially planned for each quarter — but Hernandez said if rates were lowered rebates would not be necessary.

Crosswhite and Hernandez both addressed low-income residents as well as the burdensome cost of utilities for young, first-time homebuyers. 

After more discussion the timeline came up: Clumpner said he expects to have the breakdowns of water in June and by July have the study section on the sewer plant completed. 

“Realistically,” there should be three workshops for potential rate adjustments — either up or down — including a large public session in September.

Members of the public can attend regular meetings of the Santa Paula Water & Sewer Standing Committee, which will be announced as they are scheduled. 





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