Our sewer rates just increased by $5.38 a month. This is the last increase allowed under the last Prop 218 vote in 2007. Since the sewer project was mismanaged so badly and the costs are still mounting, the latest increase will not be sufficient to keep the sewer fund flush.
They're running a deficit and the only way they can see to fill the void is yet another rate increase. The council has approved the expenditure to order a new updated water/sewer rate study. However, if the city wants to raise our sewer rates again, it must hold another Prop 218 protest vote.
Under Prop 218, when the city wants to raise our sewer or water rates it must hold a vote and if the majority of the ratepayers/property owners do not want the increase, they cannot raise the rates. For years, the city had been raising rates illegally. The only reason it held the prop 218 protest in 2007 was because it was a condition of the loan agreement.
Unfortunately, construction had already begun on the sewer project before the protest vote was ordered. The whole thing was managed badly. First they sent out "ballots" to only property owners. Then they had to resend the ballots to include all renting ratepayers. The ballot looked like junk mail so it was thrown out by many, including me. I had to dig mine out of the trash after I was told about it.
Next the city told us that people in apartments would be counted, so we collected signatures from apartment dwellers. Then we find out that only one vote per property number would be counted, be it the owner or the tenant, but not both.
The number of protests votes needed was 1,710: we turned in 2,800 signatures, but they only counted 1,310. On the last day of collecting signatures I was shocked to find so many people did not even know the protest was taking place.
Democratically, only the votes collected should count as the pool of voters. Under Prop 218, an absent vote is considered a vote in favor of a rate increase. So if you choose not to vote or don't know about the vote, it's considered a yes vote. So all those people who didn't even know about the protest vote were voting in favor of the rate increase. This includes out-of-town landlords who probably knew nothing of the protest vote.
Counting of the votes became an issue when three of us from the public were allowed to view and count the votes. We found many that should have been counted but weren't. We even purchased a CD with all the scanned letters and petitions and went page by page comparing them to the parcel number master sheet the city used to tally the votes. Many discrepancies were found, including votes that should have been counted but weren't and parcel numbers that should have been on the list but weren't.
Prop 218 doesn't just cover the protest vote on increases in sewer and water fees. It also describes that expansion is to be paid for from hook-up fees while operations and maintenance are to be paid for by ratepayers.
The city is in violation of Prop 218 since it is having the ratepayers pay for everything. Next time a Prop 218 protest vote is held, we the people need to be organized and ready. You don't have to use the ballot sent in the mail. You can write a letter stating your choice. Just be sure to include your address and if possible, your parcel number.
Remember that no vote is considered a vote in favor of the rate increase. The city needs to find other sources of revenue instead of continuing to gouge the ratepayers for its mistakes and lack of oversight on the sewer project.
Katherine Kelly is a Crescent City resident.