LAKEPORT, Calif. – Next week the Lakeport City Council will hold a public hearing on proposed water and sewer rate increases, with many city residents already lodging their complaints against the plan.
The meeting will take place beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18, in the council chambers at Lakeport City Hall, 225 Park St.
Over the next five years, the city is proposing to more than double both water and sewer rates, a step city officials say is necessary due to regulatory demands, failing infrastructure and the increasing costs of providing the services to customers.
City Manager Margaret Silveira said the city has been looking at its rate structure for four years, and that it hasn't kept pace with operations costs or system needs.
She said a small portion of the proposed rates cover overhead and operations.
“All of the prices have gone up for everything, and we have not raised our rates for quite a few years,” she said.
The city said rates are its primary sources of revenue for the water and sewer systems, paying for power, treatment chemicals, equipment and vehicle maintenance, administration, debt service, replacement, upgrades, rehabilitation, and improvement of the water and sewer system infrastructure including land and structures.
Over the summer, the council gave city staff the go ahead to send out a Proposition 218 notice to the roughly 2,200 parcels that would be affected by the increases.
For a basic rate comparison, based on the Proposition 218 notice, residential water rates that now are $17.45 per month for a 3/4-inch pipe and up to 10 CCF (a CCF is 100 cubic feet of water) would rise to $34.85 by January 2017, while a 1-inch pipe with up to 20 CCF would go from $34.87 per month to $69.70 over the five-year period.
On the sewer side, over the coming five years north customers would see bills go from $35.41 per month to $74.25 monthly, while south customers would see rates increase from $46.79 to $74.25 each month.
A full rundown of the rate increases for residential, multifamily and commercial customers can be seen in the documents posted below.
The proposed rates are the result of a comprehensive yearlong rate study completed by a consultant the city hired, city officials reported.
The study was meant to define the revenues needed to meet operating and capital improvement needs for both the water and sewer systems. It also considered funding capital projects identified in the 2008 Water and Sewer Master Plans, and provided options to encourage customers to conserve water.
Silveira said Lakeport has one of the county's lowest water rates, and some of the best water. In order to keep that quality and avoid paying fines instead of paying for system projects, the rates have to increase, she said.
She said the city recently received a new sewer permit from the state, but that came with heavy mandates, including a number of system improvement projects. The city only is proposing to do the projects that the state says must be done, she said.
There are a total of 10 sewer and water projects, for which the Lakeport City Council recently accepted a mitigated negative declaration.
The projects include payment for the acquisition of the Green Ranch, where two critical groundwater supply wells for the city are located; updating automated water and sewer control systems; construction of a new closed loop water main from South Main Street to Parallel Drive; replacement of water meter devices with lead free remote read meters; removal of sludge from a sewer treatment pond; upsizing of an undersized Main Street sewer line between Clearlake Avenue and Sixth Street; replacement of the flood prone Clear Lake Avenue Sewer Lift Station; and replacement of the dilapidated 72-inch sewer main conduit under Highway 29 between Parallel Drive and Bevins Street, the city reported.
There is no deadline for completion of the projects, Silveira said.
Silveira and Utilities Director Mark Brannigan said the city also has applied for a long-term low interest rate loan, and a $2 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture Rural Development. Silveira said the USDA has tentatively approved all of the projects.
They said the sewer and water rate increases are needed as part of the loan and grant application process.
If that funding comes through, Brannigan said it will be put toward principal repayment for the projects. He said a $1 million loan could reduce a customer's bill by about $1.15 per month.
Brannigan said that if water users conserve, it's possible that they may not see an increase in their bills.
He said the proposed increases include depreciation, which the city hasn't implemented before. Essentially, depreciation is planning for equipment to fail, and a way of putting money aside for that eventuality in order not to have to borrow money.
Brannigan said the city is looking for ways to support itself in the future without placing undue burdens on ratepayers.
He said state officials are now wanting to see capital improvement plans as part of their system inspections.
That's because infrastructure is failing across the United States, which he partially attributed to it being “out of sight, out of mind.”
He said Lakeport has some old, undersized infrastructure, some of it dating back to World War II and even earlier. While much of it has been replaced, some still remains, as the city hasn't had the revenue to do an entire replacement. He said the city tried not to deplete its resources in making the upgrades.
The council could go forward with making the decision at the Sept. 18 meeting or hold off, Silveira said.
The agenda for the meeting includes the adoption of the proposed resolutions to implement the new sewer and water rates.
“The longer this gets postponed, the more it's going to cost us,” Brannigan said.
Push back on increase proposal
Critics of the proposed rate hikes say they comes at a time when many Lakeport residents are ill-equipped to pay the increased costs.
As of Tuesday, Silveira said the city had received approximately 169 protests. She said that response “is on the high side.”
Silveira said the city will present information on the proposed rate increases and take public input at the Sept. 18 meeting. Written comments will be taken up to the meeting, but Silveira said comments must be submitted in writing, in hard copy form, and not emailed.
Lakeport resident Bob Bridges, who also works as a deputy county counsel, has been waging his own campaign against the increases.
He's written protests to the city, along with numerous letters to the editor. Bridges also has gone door to alert his neighbors and other community members about the proposal, which he said will seriously burden city residents.
Another Lakeport resident, Karen Ford, said in a letter to Lake County News that she was outraged by Lakeport's proposal, to which she had formally responded in writing. Ford also pointed out the numerous taxes and assessments people are facing at this financially challenging time.
Attorney Ed La Velle, who lives in Lakeport and also has his law office there, was another one of those who submitted a letter opposing the rate increase proposal and criticizing the city's rationale.
“I'm surprised by the grassroots grumbling that I'm hearing,” he said.
While La Velle said he did not remember the last rate increase, he suspects that the city is trying to establish water on the S. Main Street corridor, “which in turn is aimed at trying to incorporate that part of the county into the city, which would lead to increased revenues,” he told Lake County News.
Pointing to the “ongoing battle” between the county and city over that corridor, La Velle said he didn't feel that the city “is being forthright in identifying that aspect of the agenda.”
That S. Main Street corridor and the city's desire to annex it has become a sore point between the city and county due, in part, to it being the county's most lucrative area for sales tax revenue. Silveira said that the annexation issue isn't currently on the table.
The city has, however, maintained that it won't open water service on that corridor to customers not within its city limits. La Velle questioned why the city wouldn't open the area to businesses and allow them to carry more of the burden.
La Velle also questioned another city justification for the rates, the need to increase compensation for city employees. He said he took a look at the compensation and feels that they are already compensated at a very high rate, particularly in the current economy.
He doesn't feel the city's notification of the proposed rate increases was aimed at alerting people that if they opposed the hikes hey needed to actually lodge an objection.
He also questioned why the city wouldn't allow people to email complaints, instead requiring printed documents to be delivered or mailed to the city. He suggested that it wasn't odd, however, if the city didn't want input.
He said he's been asked by several people if he will be at the Tuesday meeting to speak. He said the whole matter seems like a fait accompli.
La Velle said he considers himself apolitical; however, if the rate increases pass he wondered if there will be political fallout for sitting council members seeking reelection this fall.
For more information about the proposed rate increases community members are invited to call the City of Lakeport Water and Sewer Utilities Department at 707-263-3578.
Email Elizabeth Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org .Lakeport Water and Sewer Rates Summary ReportLakeport Sewer and Water Rates Prop 218 Notice