By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rohnert Park officials are ramping up a campaign to convince residents that sewer rates must be raised to avert financial disaster.
They’re taking that message to residents Tuesday in a meeting called to discuss the rates, which voters in 2008 rolled back to 2006 levels.
Councilwoman Pam Stafford said the issue ranks second on the list of city priorities, after the overall budget, which faces a deficit now estimated to be $1.4 million at year’s end.
Leaders of Measure L, the successful 2008 voter initiative to lower the rates have sworn to oppose any attempt to raise them again, including by taking the fight to court. They argued in 2008 that the city was subsidizing future development at current ratepayers’ expense.
John Hudson, a Measure L advocate, said the city needs to hold an election if rates are to be increased because the rates were originally lowered at the ballot box.
“If they want to subvert the democratic process by not submitting it to the voters, then we’ll sue them,” Hudson said.
He said he believes the city is misstating the amount of money it is making from utility revenues and he questions whether the number given for daily loses is accurate.
Rohnert Park officials said the system’s expenses are outrunning its revenues by $10,000 a day. That will exhaust the sewer reserve fund by next year and the city will have to tap into its already stretched general fund.
Currently, according to the city, average household sewer rates are $45 a month, the second lowest in Sonoma County.
The City Council this year formed a task force that included community members to plan a campaign to convince residents of the situation’s urgency and the need for a rate hike.
Stafford said the city needs to reverse its failure in 2007 to convince voters that rolling back rates would backfire, an effort that runs smack into a universal desire to save money.
“Who doesn’t want to lower every bill they have,” she said. “We just have to do a better job of explaining how it really is truly working.”
Hudson said the task force is a sham because no one who supported Measure L is on it.
The Tuesday meeting is at 5 p.m. and will include an opportunity for public comment.