Archive » October 25, 2012
Solvang approves water rate increase
By Willis Jacobson, Staff Writer
The Solvang City Council voted to raise water rates by 5.25% at its Monday meeting, keeping in line with the five-year rate increase plan adopted by the city last year.
The latest rate increase passed with a 3-2 vote, with council members Ken Palmer and Hans Duus each voting no. The increase will take effect on Nov. 21, the start of the December billing cycle for customers. The rate increase comes a year after the council faced heavy criticism for raising rates in 2011. Despite the negative response to the price hike, though, water usage actually increased about 18,000 cubic feet from the first nine months of 2011 to the first nine months of 2012. That fact was stressed by councilwoman Tara Wood, as she voiced her support for the new rate increase.
“Even though the water rates went up last year and doom and gloom was predicted by one and all, people still used more water this year, so I think that’s something that we need to keep in mind,” she said. “It seems unreasonable at times, but the flip side is people are responsible. We didn’t see a drop last year, and I think that’s important to note.”
With the increase of about $0.41 per cubic foot of water sold from 2011 to 2012, the city increased its water revenue from $2.9 million to $3.2 million. The wastewater rate, which was not raised last year, will spike 1.7% this year, the annual inflation rate of the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
According to a report presented by city manager Brad Vidro, the cost of a five-eighths inch meter will rise from last year’s fee of $62.36 to $65.63 this year. A 1-inch meter will rise from $155.90 to $164.09. Councilwoman Joan Jamieson said that the council should stick to the recommendations offered by a consulting firm the city commissioned last year.
“I don’t want to have to go through what we went through last year, as far as increasing our water rates and having everybody extremely upset about the situation,” she said. “We spent money to have this water study done and they gave us a path to follow, and I think that we should implement that path.” Councilman Hans Duus raised issue with the 5.25% hike, saying that times were still tough for several residents, a fact that is highlighted by all the brown lawns around town.
“Vegetation now has become a luxury,” he said. “I know that personally, because I’ve got one of those brown lawns. Speaking for myself, I like to have a green lawn, but things are still tight out there for me. I would opt to go for the CPI at 1.7% on the water increase.”
Mayor Jim Richardson agreed that he would like to see the lawns improve and suggested that the city work to come up with an incentive plan to educate and encourage customers regarding lawn care. “We have such a beautiful town and it’s a shame that folks feel they can’t maintain their shrubbery and landscaping,” he said.
Still, he said he believed the rate increase was necessary for the city to remain on track with its capital improvement plan.
“I don’t like the increase, because I have to pay for it also, but I see the necessity for it,” Richardson said. Palmer questioned if the council had all the information it needed to determine if the consultant’s recommendation was the best route to follow. Likewise, Duus questioned the city making plans under the assumption that $5 million is going to fund river wells, while not fully exploring other, perhaps more cost-effective, alternatives.
“You take $5 million out of the equation and our financial situation looks much differently,” Duus said. “We haven’t looked at anything other than spending $5 million on the river. I don’t know that that’s the answer yet. We haven’t talked about it.”
Also at Monday’s meeting, the council decided to leave the city fee process in the hands of the city staff. Vidro presented a categorical breakdown of the fees – a result of the city trying to consolidate all of them into a comprehensive document – and fielded suggestions from the council on the fee collection process, as well as the fees themselves.
Palmer was complimentary of the meticulous report provided by the city staff and said that it should ultimately be left up to the city’s department heads.
“My feeling is that you, the staff, know best,” he said to Vidro. “There’s no way I can know the criteria that was used to set these fees. I would suggest that you use your judgment as department heads and as city heads to accept the fees that you have suggested. If they’re out of line, believe me, someone up here is going to hear about it – you first, probably.”
The next council meeting will be pushed back to Tuesday, Nov. 13. The council usually meets on Mondays, but the city will observe Veterans Day on Nov. 12. firstname.lastname@example.org