We have just ended the first quarter of 2011. During this quarter our water rates have significantly increased. The residential water bill you will receive in the first week of July will reflect a price hike of about 50%. This increase of water rates was passed at the end of 2010. The decision to increase rates was made after almost a year of debate and only after an engineering report was completed that estimated the costs of providing water to City of Salida customers. In spite of the year of discussion I expect the July bill to be a shocker to a lot of water customers.
I will restate why the rates have gone up. First, the energy, chemicals and other necessary items to treat and transport water have gone up in price and will continue to go up. Second, the High Zone Water Tank was paid for with a loan that was supposed to be covered by developments to the north and west of town. As we all know the developments did not happen and so the users of the water system must now cover that loan. Thirdly, the purchase of the Vandaveer water rights was paid in a lump sum when the rumor of a lawsuit regarding the lack of a TABOR saving clause in that deal was threatened. There have been other costs associated with the maintenance of an aging water system.
The bottom line is without a rate increase the City would default on the High Zone Tank loan. The long term problems a default would cause are serious, so the City Council opted for a rate increase.
To add to people’s confusion regarding the need for a rate increase is the lack of understanding of the nature of municipal funding. The Water/Sewer Enterprise Fund must stand alone and maintain its ability to function solely on the fees it collects. No sales taxes, grants or other municipal funds can be used to support the day to day operations of an enterprise fund or its enterprise fund status is lost.
You should have heard by now that the first quarter of Salida’s sales tax collections have been good. Know that sales tax revenue cannot legally be used to support the enterprise fund.
The real point of this article is to use the water rate increase to explain the difference between the City of Salida employees and the City Council members you have elected. Regarding water and sewer service, it is the City’s employees that run the water plant and our other two water sources. They also maintain and replace the water and sewer lines and run the waste water treatment plant. Other duties include the collection and accounting of all fees collected by the City. They do not make the policy that determines how those funds are spent and what fee amounts shall be levied. It is the City Council that makes the policy that determines your water rates.
It is inappropriate to take out your frustration regarding fee increases of any kind on the employees of City Government. They are doing the job they were directed to do by the City Council. There was a year for input regarding the rate increase you will see on your bill the first week of July. Very few people showed up to express their opinions. If you are angry now regarding the rate increase call or e-mail your public officials. Anger and discourtesy to the City’s employees is misdirected.
Yes, past Councils thought development would pay for projects. They believed, as many in this country believed, that the economy would forever ride the wave of prosperity caused by the housing bubble. They were wrong. As I have said many times, future Councils will have to deal with mistakes this City Council has made. Such is the reality of citizen officials.
To repeat, treat everyone as you yourself would like to be treated. That includes all local governmental employees. If you have an issue contact your elected officials. They are the ones who make the policy.
Mayor Chuck Rose