Supporting fee increase is right thing

To the Editor:

Over that last couple of weeks I have seen more opposition toward the wastewater fee increase. This isn’t unexpected. Nobody can be happy that they would have to pay more money when they are unsure about how it has been spent in the past, or will be spent in the future. It’s no doubt that the continued distrust in our elected leaders and government on all levels also contributes to this sharp opposition.

I know that some will also attribute that same distrust to me simply because of my position as a city councilman for Ridgecrest. My intent is not to sway you one way or the other but to present the facts and the reasoning behind my position on the issue.

I fully recognize the right of any property owner to protest the fee increase. I don’t argue that at all. I am very concerned, however, by those in the community who are urging other people to protest by giving out misleading information or no information at all. It is absolutely within their right to do so; however, they are ignoring the responsibility that accompanies the right. If the increase fails, then so be it. But at least let it fail on its merit alone. The people need good information to make an informed opinion.

It has been widely stated that because the city council borrowed so much from the wastewater fund in the past, that is the reason that we have to increase the fees now. I would in no way condone the actions of the past council because I would not have borrowed as they did. However, to state that that is the reason for the increases is completely false.

During the public meeting where the council discussed the rate increases, I asked the independent consultant to recalculate the rates based on the city council paying back all loans to the wastewater fund within five years. Instead of the proposed third-year rate of $29.71, it would have only decreased it to $28.71.

I understand that for some people every dollar counts, but this clearly shows that the impact from borrowing in the past is dwarfed by other factors.

Those other factors, or the real need for the increase, are much like our streets; the infrastructure is crumbling. We’ve been told that the wastewater treatment plant has only approximately five more years of service life left.

Cameras have been used to survey many parts of our sewer system, and it is literally crumbling to pieces. In some sections the sewer pipes have actually broken up and washed away to the point where there is no pipe left. The estimated repairs for the pipes alone range in the tens of millions, and the replacement wastewater treatment plant is estimated to cost $46 million. The consultant also suggests having a $4-million reserve for emergency repairs.

The best scenario would have been increasing the wastewater fees gradually each year for the past two decades. Instead, the fees remained constant for 19 years without even adjusting for the increase in cost.

My point in this is that we are long overdue for fee increases and the need is very real. I will continue to try to find ways to pay back the loans to the wastewater fund as soon as possible, but voting against the fee increase will not solve any problems or correct past mistakes.

It would be politically expedient and really easy for me right now to protest the fee increase and join the opposition due to my position on limited government and low taxes and fees. However, in doing so, I would be forced to ignore the reality of the situation before us now and the consequences of that action in the future.

Isn’t one of the biggest problems with stereotypical politicians that they ignore the future consequences for the temporary benefit of the present? I know it won’t be popular, but I believe the right thing to do is to support the fee increase now to avoid harm to the people in the future.

Jim Sanders

Ridgecrest City Councilman

Story First Published: 2013-06-05