By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rohnert Park residents would see their average sewer bills rise 50 percent by January under a proposal the City Council is close to approving.
Under the plan, the average monthly bill for a single-family household would climb from $38 to $57 in a two-step increase process starting in July.
That would leave residents paying the third-lowest rates in the county, above Petaluma and Sebastopol.
Businesses’ rates would climb too. For example, a restaurant with a high-strength discharge would see its average bill go from $3,176 to $5,227 a month, a 65 percent increase.
A final decision on the proposal is set for March 8. The council is expected to approve it.
The city is proceeding with a campaign to convince ratepayers of the need for an increase. It will include at least one mailer and a persistent effort to get out the word through presentations to community and business groups, said Interim Assistant City Manager John Dunn.
Residents who led a successful 2008 effort to lower the rates have vowed to oppose that effort, although their strategy isn’t yet fixed.
“We have to see exactly what they’re doing, what rates they’re going to raise and how they’re going to do it,” said John Hudson.
Hudson was a leader of the Measure L campaign, which rolled back rates to 2006 levels and won at the polls by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin. He and others argued that ratepayers were unfairly subsidizing future development.
The city says that Measure L caused the system to run at an annual deficit of more than $3 million.
Without a rate hike it will have to tap its general fund next year to make up the difference between revenue and expenses, according to city officials who call that fiscally untenable.
“The general fund has no money, it’s in a deficit situation,” said Dunn. “It would mean even further cuts than have already been made, and we have cut $6 million in the past two years.”
Measure L supporters argue that to reverse its results, the city must go back to the voters. City officials, however, say that all they need to do is mail notice of the proposed increase to all ratepayers.
If more than 50 percent of ratepayers do not mail in protests to the city within 45 days, the proposed rate hike goes through, City Attorney Michelle Kenyon has said.
That would subvert the democratic process, Hudson said.
“The onus is on the city to obey the will of the people,” he said. “They don’t get to just put it out there and say ‘You didn’t object.’ If they want to change it they have to go to the polls.”