BY DONNA WESTFALL
As unbelievable as it sounds 5 years into the recession, there are elected and appointed officials that believe since no one is complaining about the $5.38/month sewer rate increase; it doesn’t exist. Maybe they think that 2800 people who signed the Prop 218 protest back in 2007 are doing better these days. Maybe they don’t think at all. Such is the case with Commissioner Gerry Hemmingsen in the last LAFCo meeting. Has he even bothered to check with any of his constituents to find out how this newest sewer rate increase will affect their life?
Across from City Hall, protesters stood holding signs to let our city know that they’re complaining about the sewer rates.
Monday, March 25th at 4pm, I attended the LAFCo (pronounced “Laugh Co.”). This stands for Local Agency Formation Commission. It was set-up in our State after WWll to control urban sprawl, coordinate between different government agencies and provide oversight. This little known agency actually has a lot of power.
One of the things they provide is oversight on utilities. I spoke during public comment about the violations to Prop 218 in that rate payers are being made to absorb the entire sticker shock of the $43.8 million loan through ever increasing sewer rates. Plus, the sewer plant will still be operating at a deficit even with this latest increase due to go into effect May 1st.
The expansion component said to be at under 12% and is hard to swallow. If you had gone on a tour of the facility in 2007 before any construction took place, then revisited after construction was completed; even an idiot could tell you that expansion was above 12%.
Trying to get documents out of city hall is proving to be fruitless. Apparently, they don’t have any reports by Brown & Caldwell, Kennedy/ Jenks, and Stover Engineering. All they have is a one page flyer. Bottom line, folks, 11.55% is attributed to expansion. They will not spend any more time with me over the expansion component because I’ve already spent a lot of time on this subject. Except they’re wrong. I spent one hour in 2012 with Utilities Director Eric Wier, City Manager Gene Palazzo and resident Wes Nunn, and about fifteen minutes in 2009 with Wes Nunn and Jim Barnts, former public works director. One hour and fifteen minutes with few answers, only more questions.
Should the expansion component really turn out to be closer to 30%, 40% or 50%, then you can see that the rate payers are being taken to the cleaners. Also, it would tend to point in the direction that a grand fraud was perpetrated upon the public.
On Monday, April 1st, I go into city hall to pick up copies of the State Revolving Loan loan document. After three people notitfied me that they called the Water Department asking for the total number of hook-ups, each was told they had to make a public records request for that information. City hall is currently sitting on my public records request for the total number of hook-ups to the sewer plant. In 2007, we were told we had 3421. This $43.8 million upgrade/expansion is supposed to supply us with approximately 1,000 hook-ups over the next 20 years. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if all 1,000 have already been used?
Other Commissions sitting on the LAFCo board: Kathryn Murray, Rick Holley, Roger Gitlin and Sparky Countess. Their next meeting is April 22nd at 4pm. Maybe by then we’ll have a few more seats filled in the audience along with petitioners signatures and comments and complaints about the sewer rates. Maybe then they’ll decide to do something about it. After all, if the rate payers are paying for expansion, then the city is in violation of Prop 218.