Mayor Explains Water Rate Increase

In the middle of March a hand written letter was left for me at Salida City Hall. In this letter a Salida resident, who has lived here for twenty years, expressed her concern that the rise in water rates would create a situation where she and her husband might have to leave the City. Her request was that the City of Salida does not raise water rates. She continued to say that with increased property taxes and health expenses, life in our town is simply becoming too expensive.

I can only sympathize. Before I give my perspective on the significant increase in water rates we will all experience at the next billing cycle let me offer a personal comment. First it remains amazing to me that our costs continue to go up for everything while, in many cases, the quality has seemed to diminish. When I finished college in the early 70’s and moved West, I paid $140.00 per year for health insurance. My wife and I now pay over $10,000 per year with a $3,000 deductible. Automobile gas in 1976 cost $.44 per gallon. A pound of lean hamburger was $.89 per pound. What cost $2.00 in 1968, costs $12.00 just before the sub prime mortgage crash.

The causes of these increased costs are varied. An economist can better give us the explanations behind the devaluation of the dollar, inflation and the ramifications of private and public sector debt than I can. However, we know that as we live longer more medical care for more people has become the norm. We know that there has been an increased desire by the citizens for more governmental services. And we know that wars are costly to the soldiers that fight them and the citizens that pay for them.

Simply, everything has gone up and will continue to go up. It is my opinion that the 50% water rate increase we will see in the next quarter has been caused by a series of past decisions made by our elected officials that were based upon the wisdom of the day. First, in reaction to the drought of 2002, the City Council chose to purchase Glenn Vandaveer’s ranch. The first priority water rights gained by the city have been a major plus for the supply of water to our citizens. However, the idea that a developer would buy the land and Salida would end up with the water without much investment failed to work in the aftermath of the sub prime mortgage blow up. So the citizens will be paying for the water portion of that purchase in their water rates.

The High Zone Water Tank was to be paid for by developments such as Miramonte and other potential developments to the north and west of town. The same popping of the real estate market bubble has made that tank now the financial responsibility of the current users of Salida’s water system. The choice is to increase water fees to the current users of Salida’s water or forfeit on the loan.

The other major factor for the water rate increase is the need to refurbish the water treatment plant. Remember this plant was built in 1957. Depending on the degree of work that will be needed, cost estimates vary between $300,000 and two million dollars. By paying extra in water fees now we hope to build reserves to the point that the work can be paid for outright or a large down payment could be made, thereby saving Salidans the interest on borrowed funds.

There is no doubt that costs will increase. We have commoditized necessities such as water, energy and health care and as a result the free market will continue to drive prices up. I am not happy with that. However, given the choice between having the Water and Sewer Enterprises go bankrupt or increasing rates, I choose increasing rates.

This summer various parades and celebrations will occur to honor our active soldier’s and veteran’s efforts that maintain and protect our democracy. I ask all of us to consider the degree to which we, as citizens, do our part to maintain the democratic system we extoll. If
we refuse to be engaged in government, especially local government, and if we refuse to run for office, I wonder if we are fulfilling the citizen side of the contract democracy demands? In November there will be four seats contested on the Salida City Council. It is your chance to stand up and do what a citizen is obligated to do in our United States. Then you will have the opportunity to wrestle with the local issues of the day and find the solutions that are to the benefit of all of us.

Chuck Rose
April 29, 2011