City council approves water, sewer rate increase

The Winters city council has approved a resolution increasing the water and sewer rates for residents.
Photo: Stock image via Pexels/Steve Johnson

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presented three different options for raising the rates that largely focused on how to fulfill a debt incurred by the sale of water and sewer bonds in 2007. At the June meeting, the council leaned toward refinancing the bonds with an extended repayment term because it called for the lowest rate hike on both water and sewer bills. Water bills are comprised of two different rates: A fixed rate that is based on the kind of meter installed at a dwelling and a volumetic rate that is based on actual water usage. Similarly, sewer bills are comprised of a fixed rate that depends on the dwelling itself and a volumetic rate based on usage. The rate hikes impact only the fixed rate on both services, a move Gunby said was intended to help the city maintain a steady flow of revenue over the next two years. Starting on Saturday, the fixed rate for water use will increase by $1.37 a month with an additional rate hike of $1.99 in July 2019. Sewer rates will increase by $7.04 a month starting Saturday with no additional increase through next year. In a handout distributed before Thursday’s meeting, Gunby showed that the rate Winters residents will pay on their water bills is still expected to be lower than residents in other nearby cities, including those who live in Vacaville, Davis and Woodland. But the opposite is true for sewer rates — Winters residents will pay more than those three cities. Gunby’s projections was based on an assumed volumetric use of 22 billing units (about 16,700 gallons) of water and sewer use each month. On average, Winters residents log around 9 and 10 billing units (about 6,700 to 7,500 gallons) of water and sewer use per month, Gunby said. Few Protested Last Thursday, no one at City Hall seemed particularly pleased to be discussing the issue again in large part because everyone understood that public sentiment was unlikely to favor any kind of rate increase. Indeed, the council acknowledged it had received three letters of protest since the matter was initially brought up two months ago. Mayor Bill Biasi, who acknowledged the protest letters, counted himself among the people who were not in favor of raising the rates. “I was one of those people in the audience five years ago when the water rate changes went into effect,” Biasi said. “I spoke against it at the time. I’m still not in favor of raising the rates, but I understand why we have to do it.” Biasi explained that the city was not raising rates to make money, but rather to cover the cost of providing both water and sewer services to residents. Along with conservation efforts, rising utility hikes and slower-than-expected population growth were cited as reasons why water and sewer revenues have fallen short over the last few years. “We’re now at the point where we have to look at what our options are to keep those things even so we’re not making or losing money,” Biasi said. “One of the suggestions (was)…why don’t we take the money from some other pot’s money and put it into the fund and make up the difference? Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of funds to take money from that.” City Attorney Ethan Walsh noted that the only place additional funds could come from would be the general fund. Gunby added that even if they wanted to pull money from the general fund to make up the difference in lost revenue, that money wouldn’t be counted as revenue but rather as a subsidy, and in any case the city didn’t have the money to make that happen. “We’re not doing that hot on the general funds,” Gunby said. “We don’t have about $250,000 just laying around that we can do that with.” Though many complained on social media of the water increase when it was proposed two months ago, no residents showed up to voice their opposition in person during the public comments portion of the meeting. But Mike Derkach, a senior executive with the Community Housing Corporation (CHOC), did address the city council, arguing that any rate increase would disproportionately impact residents of a Baker Street low-income housing complex owned and managed by his group. Derkach said under the proposed rate increase CHOC’s water and sewer bill would jump by about $12,000 a year based on the complex’s regular annual use of about 500 billing units spread out among 80 dwellings. Because of existing government regulations, Derkach said the rate increase couldn’t simply be passed on to the low-income families who live in those units and that his company would have to either absorb the cost of the increase or work with government regulators to raise rents. “We are representing yet another financial burden to these residents who live in our community,” Derkach said. “These are farm workers, seasonal workers, low-income workers struggling to make it in our difficult economy. In some respects, they’re being punished because they’re cooperating with our efforts to reduce water consumption.” Derkach pleaded with city officials to consider the impact a rate increase would have on low-income residents. Gunby sympathized with Derkach, but said California law required any rate increase to be equitable. “While I realize that it can be a hardship, we really don’t have the option of subsidizing because that’s against the law,” Gunby said. By the end of the public hearing portion of the meeting, it was clear the strong negative public sentiment was weighing heavy on each council member. Not one stepped up to move for a vote, forcing the mayor to ultimately make a motion on the issue. In the end all five council members voted in favor of the rate increase. “Sorry to have to be the bearer of such bad news,” Biasi said after the vote. “It wasn’t easy, but someone had to do it.”

Correction: A version of this article that appeared in print erroneously said the new water and sewer rates would start on Friday. The new water and sewer rates take effect Saturday, Sept. 1. ]]>

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