Recent notices sent to SLO City residents to alert them of an increase in their sewer rate don’t directly state the reason officials have cited for the hike.
City officials have acknowledged the hike was thanks to a bookkeeping error by city staffers and a consultant. As a result, SLO City Council members recently voted to hike rates and postpone capital projects.
But the official notices, required to be sent under Proposition 218, which allows citizens to challenge any rate increase, don’t mention any error.
Instead, under a section headlined: “Why is the sewer rate being increased?” the notice cites a number of factors including “ … a change in the assumption on how much the commercial sector contributes to the rate base and weather influences on water use during the 2006-2007 average winter water use control period.”
Gary Henderson, water division manager, said the notice probably could have been clearer.
“I think we were trying to focus less on what the reason was and more on letting people know they had the right to protest.”
City officials have said the error was made while determining appropriate rates and projecting future revenue. Cal Poly, the city’s largest sewer account, was counted twice using erroneously high data. The error caused consultants to presume more revenue than could be collected and to set the wrong rate for the city’s 14,000 sewer users. It led to a shortfall of more than $1 million dollars in the city’s sewer fund over the past two ears.
In order to close the gap, the City Council has approved an increase in volume rates, as well as the delay of major capital projects, including the replacement of sewer lines and a large wastewater lift station located near the city’s wastewater treatment plant, according to city utilities director John Moss.
Unless opposed by a majority of sewer bill-payers, volume rates will increase fifty cents for every 748 gallons of wastewater produced. When combined with last year’s decision to increase fees from $40.35 to $44.42 starting this month, the average household that produces 5,200 gallons of wastewater per month can now expect to pay $47.92 per month.
“We’re always cautious about increasing our fees, but it’s necessary for us to continue our services,” said Moss, who stated that all utility department revenues are generated from customer fees alone.
Under Proposition 218, notice of the increase was required to be given to residents by July 15. Unless opposed, the rate increase will solidify starting Sept. 3. Protest to the increase must be received by the city by Sept. 2.