Council looks at increasing sewer fees

Residents ask for justification for ’exorbitant’ fee hikes

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

The Ridgecrest City Council will consider increasing residential and commercial sewer fees at tonight’s regular meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. in City Council Chambers.

According to one of two proposed rate-increase schedules provided by staff, the $10 fee for single-family residences will be increased to $18.78 in 2014 and to $37.78 in 2015.

Following the release of the staff report, numerous residents have asked the council and city management for a study that justifies what some have characterized as an “exorbitant” rate hike.

Others have asked whether the wastewater fund is suffering from overborrowing. (The general fund is paying back some $4.5 million to the fund over the course of 30 years.)

These inquiries also echo ongoing concerns from the public that the city does not provide enough background to inform citizens of the critical data that drive some controversial actions.

In an open letter to the council, Stan Rajtora outlined 11 concerns regarding the consultant’s wastewater-fund report, which will be presented prior to the council discussion of the fee increase.

“I have many questions, not only about the report, but about the project as a whole and what the city is planning to do,” wrote Rajtora. “I was surprised and somewhat shocked that such a large fee increase has been proposed without first being reviewed in one of the city committees.”

His questions included why the city was proposing two sets of rates, what assumptions were used in the rata analysis and what plan was in place for repairing or replacing sewer lines.

“This is an extremely useful, very comprehensive, and top-notch professional document.  It takes a huge amount of time and energy to do this kind of study, and our city is very lucky to have as capable, as knowledgeable and as determined citizens such as yourself,” Jim Fallgatter wrote in response to Rajtora’s analysis.

“You have provided an excellent framework for the research and return of solid answers by city government.  The answers should be addressed one by one just as you have laid them out and called for, and we all deserve both as comprehensive/through and as professional, a reply as you shown in this analysis.”

If the council moves forward with the rate increase, propertyowners will still have a say through the Proposition 218 process – which includes an opportunity to voice opposition through a public hearing and mail-in ballot.

The only other item up for discussion is a report from Finance Director Rachelle McQuiston, who will be presenting an update on budget projections for the fiscal year.

The council will also present an Employee of the Month award to Lane Ritchey.

The city will also recognize the 35th anniversary of National Health Services and the IWV Masonic Lodge’s observance of Public Schools Month.

Items on the consent calendar include a contract to construct Cycle 9 of the Safe Route to School project, an agreement with Willdan Engineering to manage that project, a resolution for an at-will contract for city management services and a resolution regarding the DMV’s “Donate Life California” event.

The public is invited to attend. Proceedings will be broadcast on Mediacom channels 6 and 41 and streamed online at www.justintv.com.

Story First Published: 2013-04-17