By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma Mayor Joanne Sanders said she does not support a proposed 25 percent increase in the city’s water rates over the next five years, saying it will hurt people on fixed incomes the most.
“I don’t think we are in a time when people can afford this, and it’s for five years,” Sanders said Friday.
The Sonoma City Council today will consider the proposed rate increase of 5 percent each year for five years, which city staff says is needed to operate and maintain the city’s water services and to offset the city’s increased costs to purchase water from the Sonoma County Water Agency.
Under the proposal, the average water bill for a typical single-family residence would go from $61.47 to $64.43. That’s for a family that uses approximately 9,000 gallons
of water in a two-month period.
The proposed increase is less than what several other North Bay communities have adopted recently.
North Marin last year approved a three-year increase of 11 percent each year, Windsor bumped rates up by 9 percent and Sebastopol recently approved a four-year increase of 32 percent each year.
The proposed increase in Sonoma also is less than the 7 percent hike recommended by a consultant in 2010.
Milenka Bates, the city’s Public Works director, said the 7 percent hike is not warranted at this time because the city has had to delay several large capital improvement projects because of permitting issues.
“We are a small operation and can only move so fast with all of the permitting (and) environmental issues that we are working through,” Bates said. “I do not want to impact our rate payers if we do not have to.”
Sanders said the Public Works Department should consider reductions in personnel costs, including pensions, before seeking to pass the costs on to ratepayers.
“Maybe that is an area where we can’t afford to continue those benefits we’ve been paying out, and maybe we should be cutting back,” she said.
She said the city also could pull money from a special projects fund to offset the need for higher water rate increases.
Bates said even with the five percent increase, the city’s water agency would still have a projected shortfall of about $2.7 million for operations and capital improvement needs. She said the city may have to consider issuing water bonds to make up the difference.
The city as of Thursday had received about 150 letters from water customers who are opposed to the increase. A majority of ratepayers would have to object for the increases to be thwarted. The city has 4,326 utility customers.
Gerry Simmel, a retired journalist living in Sonoma, said the city already is charging him too much for his water use. He said his water bills have gone up 25 percent in the past five years, while his usage over that period fell by 14 percent.
He said two-thirds of his bills are to pay for service charges.
“I’m opposed to any utility that has a big service charge rather than basing the amount you pay on usage,” Simmel said.
Today’s City Council meeting is at 6 p.m. at the Community Meeting Room on First Street West.
You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @deadlinederek.