After bleeding its reserve fund dry, San Luis Obispo County Public Works imposed higher sewage and water rates for hundreds of Nipomo residents.
“We’re caught in a very difficult bit of public process here,” Supervisor Bruce Gibson said as the board reticently approved the last of three proposed rate increases. “I think you can tell by the tone of this public hearing that it’s not at all something we’re happy to do.”
The board voted unanimously to increase water rates from $22.16 to $55.66 per month for a combined 474 parcels. It was the first rate increase since 1986 for residents in the County Service Area 1 (CSA). Public Works Department Administrator Will Clemens said the rate increases were necessary to compensate for increases imposed by the Nipomo Community Services District (NCSD). The county handles collection systems in the service area, but still pays the NCSD for treatment.
The NCSD, however, had increased its rates in small increments since 2008, according to a staff report. Rather than incrementally raise rates for CSA 1 customers, the county drew down its reserve fund. Then the reserve fund ran dry, leaving residents as the only remaining funding source.
The county put forward the increase under Proposition 218, which requires a majority of property owners to file written protests to stop the Board of Supervisors from taking action.
Judy Stevens, a resident of the Galaxy Mobile Home Park, brought a stack of written protests she collected after going door to door to explain to confused neighbors that they had to protest to stop the rate increase. Even with the letters she brought, there were only 23 protests out of 160 parcels in that portion of the CSA.
“All I’m asking for is a one month extension so I can get back out there,” Stevens told county supervisors. “And I’ll get more letters, I guarantee it.”
County supervisors unanimously and reluctantly approved the rate increases. The supervisors instructed county staffers in the future to better notify residents of the Proposition 218 process and attempt to implement incremental increases rather than large, last-minute rate hikes.