Water and sewer rate increase: Residents please come forward, attend meetings

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As I See It

By ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO

Unless the residents of the city of Milpitas will file formal protests to the proposed water and sewer rate increases by February 5, the City Council will approve the new rate with no adjustments to take effect April 1, 2019.

I attended the second community meeting re water rate increase last Saturday, January 12 at the Milpitas Community Center but only four of us attended, i.e. equal to the number of city staff conducting the outreach. I was told by Tony Ndah, Public Works Director, in response to my query that the first one held at Zanker Elementary School, there were only three residents who attended the dialogue. Fellow residents, the city is willing to hear our voice and take our feedbacks/comments/protests, but we need you to attend community meetings!

Prior to the outreach meetings, Public Information Officer Jennifer Yamaguma said the flyer that contains the proposed changes were mailed to residents in December last year. From December to February this year, a series of community meetings will be conducted and the last public hearing will be on February 5, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. at the City of Milpitas City Hall Council Chambers. After going through all formal protests/comments/feedbacks that evening, the city Council will work on the feedbacks and then approve the rate increase that will take effect on April 1.

Going back towards the end of 2017, the city council formed the Citizens Task Force composed of 12 community leaders/residents which group met twice a month for a year. They came out with their recommendation towards the end of 2018 for the city council to consider the tier rate, among others. The Council went through the proposal but apparently, they rejected the tier rate by retaining the uniform billing system upon the recommendation of a study group and by the Public Works Department due to reasons, principally trying to avoid legal issues if the city decides a tier system which led to the Capistrano case in the past.

The reason why the task force was formed was because many residents complained in the past about the high rate of water bills and the citizens need to be involved in addressing the issue.

The Public Works Department made a presentation to the city council on the proposed water and sewer increase in April 2018 after they received the result of the outside study group. On November 29, 2018, the City Council conditionally approved the proposed increase and gave a go signal to the Public Works Department to start a series of community meetings and a widespread information campaign to let the residents know of the proposed increase.

For the information of the residents of Milpitas, the city of Milpitas buy potable water from two sources: the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) which accounts for 63% of the water operating expenses.

Ndah emphasized that the City of Milpitas is proposing water rate increases due to a lot of reasons. Foremost of which is the increasing wholesale cost of treated water the city buys from the two water facilities. Other than that, the city needs additional revenue for maintaining the aging pipelines and other water infrastructure such as leaks and failing water structures that continue to age. To replace a mile of pipe, Ndah said, will cost $2 M per year. Public Works Director Ndahl said, “Our water fund balance is depleting since we have not passed on wholesale water supply rate increases to our customers for the past two years”.

The City Council directed the Department of Public Works to explore tiered rate structures as recommended by the Citizens Task Force as against the current uniform rate structure. Public works retained an outside consulting firm Bartle Wells Associates (BWA) to conduct the rate study and based on their study, which the department upheld as against the Task Force recommendation, the city can’t justify a tiered rate structure at this time based on four criteria. Option one uses two water sources which addresses two different zones. It involves stacking water resources pricing to tiers. This can be used when you have more than one water source, where the other source (more expensive) is used to meet peak demands.

The second option, according to Ndah involves assigning costs to tiers based on the benefits to the large volume or upper tier customers. The example given was the implementation of a conservation program that targets outdoor use or a turf buy-back program.

Ndah said the 3rd and 4th options need more analysis and the city is not ready to venture on these options. “Besides, there is no guarantee that it will work for us,” Ndah commented. The way I See It, awaiting major legal challenge is a big factor in the decision to stick to the uniform rate, instead of the tier system.

Under the proposed uniform rates, it will consist of three charges: fixed “meter charge” based on meter size; “quantity charge” levied per unit of water use; and “capital surcharge” charged per unit of potable water use to fund capital projects. Based on this proposal, an average single base resident receiving a current billing of $54.72 will be billed under the new rate at $58.24, according to Ndah in his comparative presentation. This showed an increase of $3.52 per month, from $54.72 to $58.24.

Also, he made a comparison with neighboring cities. Based on the comparison, Ndah said the city of Milpitas is still far below the average of $65.00 per month using a 5/8 inch meter. The computation, according to Ndah did not include the surcharge because they vary from city to city.

Do you approve of the new rate? If not, attend community meetings and the final public hearing on Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. at the Milpitas city Hall Council Chambers!

Let your voice be heard!

(For feedbacks, comments… please email the author @ estiokoelpidio@gmail.com).

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