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Rohnert Park likely to propose sewer rate hike

By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The outlines of a proposed sewer rate increase and the campaign to convince Rohnert Park residents of its urgency became clear Tuesday.

Using an analyst’s recommendations, city staff likely will propose hiking rates — which voters rolled back two years ago — by about half. They currently average $38 a month, the lowest in Sonoma County, according to the city and its analyst, Sacramento-based Bob Reed.

“We are looking at something approaching a 50 percent rate increase,” Reed said.

The city and a group of citizens that it convened will build its sales effort on the themes of public health and safety and fiscal responsibility, primarily with a message of the health and financial risks of a sewer spill should the aging system not be upgraded.

City Hall and its allies also will continue to warn that core city services are threatened unless rates are raised.

“We are here tonight to continue our ongoing efforts to keep Rohnert Park safe and protect our essential city services,” City Manager Gabe Gonzalez said at the outset of Tuesday’s special council meeting.

“Nobody will want to say simply, ‘I want to pay more,’ there has to be a really strong argument,” said Mack McCaffry, a Rohnert Park resident who is on a “stakeholders committee” that the city put together to work on the rates issue.

The 2008 ballot initiative, Measure L, rolled back rates to 2006 levels, or by 30 percent. It won passage by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin and on Tuesday some of its supporters protested the city’s move, saying that Measure L requires an election to raise rates again, a position the city disputes.

“Under the law it has to go back to the voters to be changed,” said Eunice Edgington, who campaigned for the initiative.

And sounding one of the arguments Measure L supporters made two years ago, she said, “Those opposed to Measure L were developers.”

John Hudson, one of the ballot measure’s signers, said, “I just find it impossible to believe” the city’s account of its finances.

He and others said in 2008 that the city, by proposing rate hikes, was subsidizing future development at the expense of current ratepayers. They also argue that city financial statements show that it has more money than it claims to have.

Clerical errors in the financial statements Hudson has pointed to — a fiscal year 2010 consolidated statement of revenues — produced that impression, Rohnert Park Finance Director Sandy Lipitz has said.

City officials unsuccessfully fought the 2008 election results in court and warned that the lower rates would lead to a operating losses that eventually would bankrupt the city.

Now they say they are losing $10,000 a day in sewer-system operating costs. Reed on Tuesday said that in the current fiscal year, expenses outpace revenue by nearly $4 million.

The costs are drawing down reserves to the point that they will be gone by next year and the city will have to go to the general fund to make up the losses, Interim Assistant City Manager John Dunn said Tuesday.

That, he said, would force the city — which has cut $6 million in spending over the past two years, including by making 38 layoffs — to cut further. He said those cuts likely would come from police and fire services, street and park maintenance repair and recreation.

Any effort to raise the rates — which Measure L backers have sworn to oppose in court — would require the city to comply with Proposition 218, which state voters passed in 1996 and which created a mail-in ballot process.

Under Proposition 218, the city would mail notices of the proposal to raise rates to all its ratepayers. If more than 50 percent of the ratepayers mail in protests within 45 days, the increase cannot proceed.

City attorney Michelle Kenyon said that the city is convinced it retained the right to raise rates despite Measure L’s passage, as long as Proposition218 is followed.

“That initiative did not impact the city’s ability to raise rates in the future, so long as they complied with Proposition 218, that is the city’s position,” Kenyon said.

Petaluma residents have tried twice to roll back their sewer rates, but both voter initiatives failed, most recently last year.

Joe Gaffney, a Rohnert Park resident who leads the stakeholders committee, said that the group is also preparing for the likelihood of another voter initiative to roll back rates, should an increase go through.

That, Gaffney said, “will follow as night follows day.”

Reed is to present his precise rate recommendations at the council meeting Tuesday.





5 Responses to “Rohnert Park likely to propose sewer rate hike”

  1. John Hudson says:

    When somebody contradicts himself, usually the first thing said is the truth. This is because nobody has pointed out the implications of what he said before he said it. When he contradicts the first thing he says, it is either after the implications of the first thing he said is pointed out to him or he reflects and realizes the implications himself.

    Applying this to the present situation, the City financial officer said that the city was doing well and making a profit on public utilities. Then it was pointed out that the city was claiming to be driven to the poor house by the Measure L sewer rates. When the implications of the first statement, that the city was doing well, were pointed out, the city immediately changed what it was saying to support raising rates.

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  2. 0 Representation says:

    I work for a CPA firm that compiles statements of assets, liabilities, and equities for financial statements. Preparing a financial statement isn’t a matter of plugging numbers in. There are SO many double checks. So as for a “clerical error”.. it rings SO untrue to me. And as I stated in my previous post if there was an error made why wasn’t a corrected version immediately published? Wouldn’t that have been the right thing for the city to do? IF the city would have done it’s due diligence there would be no question now of different numbers.

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  3. paying attention says:

    Hang on:

    “The city and a group of citizens that it convened will build its sales effort on the themes of public health… and financial risks of a sewer spill should the aging system not be upgraded.”

    We are not as dumb as you think.
    We know that the 3,000+ new homes that you want to support with aging pipes is the real issue. And you want OUR money to make that happen.

    Here we go again, subsidizing developers.

    Wouldn’t it be nice to have a real citizen (like us) on the council, like Mr. Hudson?! You got my vote too.

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  4. John Hudson says:

    Well, just maybe these are not “clerical errors” after all. Maybe what is in the paper is the truth and the city government has gotten used to having nobody read these boring financial statements. Maybe they just change the numbers when the numbers prove inconvenient. Maybe the city council and staff are dishonest.

    Most of us have heard about the scandal in the City of Bell, with the city council under indictment. Mayer, Hoffman & McCann, the Bell city auditor, gave the City of Bell a clean bill of health for several years before the scandal broke. Since the scandal broke the City of Riverside fired Mayer, Hoffman & McCann as its city auditor. Unfortunately, the City of Riverside is the only city to fire this firm. The rest of its clients want an auditor that will keep quit about misconduct and have kept Mayer, Hoffman & McCann as their auditor. The difference between the City of Bell and any other city in California is only a difference of degree.

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  5. 0 Representation says:

    Clerical errors in the financial statements? WHY didn’t Rohnert Park Finance Director Sandy Lipitz catch them prior? Isn’t that her job as “Finance Director”? Sounds too easy. Also if there were “mistakes” why wasn’t the “corrected” financial statement made public? I think WE the public are being sold one shady deal. I wish John Hudson would run next election for a City Council position that way the People of this city have half a chance of not being screwed over. Please consider it John. I’d vote for you.

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