Today the city council decided to ratify the sewer rate increase that calls for an initial 33% increase (more or less depending on where you fall as a water user) as of January 2012 and an additional 9% per year for four years starting July of 2013. This equates to about 86% overall increase in the 5 year span. The council was given a presentation outlining the cost associated with the current sewer needs. Highlights go like this- There hasn't been an increase in the past 12 years even though the cost of living has risen 40%. The fund was paying bills and had positive revenue initially but has been drawing down over the past few years as costs have been about 3 million a year over revenues. During the drought El Cajon residents were asked to conserve, which they did, causing lost revenues. San Diego city takes about 2/3rds of the overall cost. Multiple projects required in the coming years (including Johnson Ave which had an over flow last year due to excessive storm run-off) that will take addition funding. El Cajon currently owes the city of San Diego a significant amount of past due fees which they are looking at repaying through a low interest loan over 10 years. This proposed increase would have the city generating positive revenue again by 2017. There were 171 letters file in protest to the increase which is less than 1% of residents (51% is needed to stop the increase without a vote from city council). 8 people had public comments they were-Vicky Herman- disagreed with her assessment of the fees, stating a large portion of the water she uses is for irrigation and does not go down the sewer. H. Campbell- disagreed with this level of increase and stated it was being misrepresented and was an overall increase of 96% over the term of increases. Joe Levack- stated his bill will go from $35 to $93. John Martez- strongly disagreed with the increase and pointed out other areas that the council has made monetary mistakes calling them tax and spend republicans. John Gibson- stated that the city may save money by being designated as a charter city and find ways to cut the spending by the management of the process. Kathy Hilton with the East county board of realtors- opposed the rate increase as being excessive. Steve Gobal- was concerned with the infrastructure as storm water caused the overflow of sewer when they are supposed to be two separate systems. He also pointed out that there was a math error in the proposal as it was an initial 39% increase not 33% as stated. Ron Pennock- Stated this increase does not help with recruiting new businesses to the area. After public comment was closed the council proceeded to ask question to Rob Turner (the acting city manager). Gary Kendrick's questions all seemed to be a set-up for Mr. Turner as to the dire need for the improvements. They asked if it could be lowered any and Mr. Turners response was that the initial recommendation was for a 50% increase and this is as low as they could get it, he didn't know if San Diego would be willing to extend the loan past 10 years, if any redevelopment funds would be available in the future, blah blah blah.
My take on all this- First off I am against rate increases without due diligence and I don't feel the council looked into this enough to justify the increase. The information that was presented for the increase was definitely skewed. The graph they sent out showed that El Cajon's sewer rates were the lowest of the cities surveyed. What is wrong with that? I would be proud of that and would want to keep it that way. Then they say with the initial 33% increase El Cajon goes to a median level in comparison with the other cities but it doesn't show where it stands after the additional 4 years of 9% increases. They say because of conservation efforts revenues were down. So, we do what we are asked and are rewarded with higher rates. Does that make sense? There is 1/3 of the overall cost that is administrative and supported by city workers. How efficient is that being run? Is there room to cut costs there? Why does the council feel the need to make a decision that affects the next 5 years? Couldn't they have an initial one-time adjustment then see how redevelopment funds play out and/or what kind of payment plan we can work out with the City of San Diego? With the drought officially over conservation methods are no longer the focus thus, the city may pick up some additional revenue there. There is a new max level in the proposal of $140. Couldn't that be raised so that the people that use more of the water/sewer share the cost instead of all the people in the median use areas paying for them? I am surprised at the small amount of protest letters and public speakers that turned out for this cost increase. Maybe it was because the people didn't fully understand the amount of increase or maybe it's just apathy.
The residents of El Cajon need to remember in 2012 there are 3 seats open for election on the council and if you want to see new ideas, a more conservative approach, and someone who is business friendly vote Duane Swainston.