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Rate hike unfair to residents

By Donna Westfall

Funding our community's growth is not a cost that the small number of current sewer rate payers are legally responsible for under Prop. 218.

Current rate payers are responsible only for their share of continued proper functioning of our sewer plant. The community as a whole is responsible for growth, and/or developers are responsible. The sewer rate increase fails the test of proportionality to use.

Please send in your protest of the new sewer fee increases. They are illegal and unfair. If you are a renter that pays the sewer bill, or owner of property with sewer service, you get a vote for each sewer connection you pay for. Just get out a piece of paper, write down "I protest Crescent City sewer rate increase," then write down the addresses of your home or properties that have sewer service, date and sign your name. Get that piece of paper to the Crescent City Office at 377 J St. by Monday.

The city presentation is inaccurate.

Finance laws and Prop. 218 require us to analyze the sewer project and assign a precise amount to growth or current use. The facility plan and financial schedule for three distinct stages of improvements has not been followed.

We are currently installing most of stage two (the outfall and one bio-membrane) combined with stage one. In other words, everything is mixed up, including the city's capacity ratings and costs for the intermediate stages. Improvements currently being built reduce the costs of the third final stage of the 20-year fix.

A Solution

The most accurate representation of sewer plant capacity identified by the Water Quality Control Board and loan officer, is taken from the engineering and planning documents (SFEIR). It is the plant rating for average dry weather flow (ADWF). The 20-year fix of the plant design will be rated for an ADWF of 3.5 mgd (million gallons per day), as compared to the current use of 1.3 mgd.

Current user fees must be proportional to use. Therefore, the current user rates should be proportional to 1.3 mgd, or 37 percent (1.3 divided by 3.5) of all sewer plant improvement costs, plus all current routine maintenance/operation. At this point in time, the remaining 63 percent of sewer improvement costs should be carried by developers or the future users (the entire city and county) proportional to their planned growth rates in our general plan.

City residents are correct in identifying that most of the development cost should be assigned to the county rather than the city. The people of the city do have a natural sense of fairness about this, which is what Prop. 218 is all about. According to the SFEIR Table 2.7, the city population is scheduled for only 24 percent of our waste treatment growth, and the county is scheduled for 76 percent. Therefore, currently the city's growth charges to general funds/hookup fees, plus the county's growth charges should be proportionally (24 percent + 76 percent) of 63 percent of all sewer plant improvement costs.

As new users hook up, the user fees should carry more than 37 percent of the improvement costs, and the charges to growth (general funds of both city and county, and/or hook-up fees) should be proportionately reduced from the current 63 percent. There should be an automatic yearly adjustment, proportional to the year's ADWF that adjusts the balance between 37 percent users, and 63 percent growth.

If we become more efficient users, we benefit the community as a whole by preserving capacity for growth. When Rumiano's fixed their load, all user fees should have been reduced, and both county and city general funds should have been charged more. This type of plan would give users a real incentive to conserve. This is the fairest solution, consistent with our laws.

It is ironic that only two persons, who represent the Chamber of Commerce on behalf of growth, spoke at the previous sewer rate hearing and advocated that current users pay for all of the sewer plant improvement costs. If the city and the county as a whole want growth, they better put up or shut up, as the saying goes.

Finance laws clearly shield the small number of current users from shouldering the hardship of future growth of the city and county. The general funds and developer hook-up fees are the logical choice for carrying the costs of growth. And, they are the legal choice. It is our right to protest. Good luck to us all.

Meanwhile

The city wrongly portrays the sewer improvements project as just a renovation. The loan documents and SFEIR clearly indicate a doubling of capacity.

The City Council is using scare tactics to stop the success of the protest. The city threatens that the Regional Water Quality Board will fine us because we do not have a plan to fix the sewer. That is not true. We do have a plan to fix the sewer, and it is moving ahead. The city does have a bridge loan to cover construction payments.

We are simply protesting the way we are going to pay off our debt, and we want an evaluation to identify any overlooked cost-saving measures that are still available.

The city and county governments do not want to touch general funds or other general revenues to pay for the sewer. They have not offered to double the hook-up fees for developers, which could be done instantly.

The City Council fails to consider the environmental injustice and the economic hardship to a city where more than 34 percent of resident incomes are below the poverty level, and 16 percent live below 50 percent of the poverty level.

Donna Westfall heads the group Citizens Against $42.5 Million Debt.

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