Portola water rates to drop by 5 percent

Carolyn Carter

  When Portola residents receive their utility bills for the month of September, they will notice less of a sting from pricey water rates.

  Even though the City Council adopted a resolution approving an increase in water rates at its meeting June 26, the council members and city staff have been working to find ways to bring those rates back down. As a result, the City Council voted to reduce the water rates by 5 percent at the council meeting Aug. 14.

  City Manager Ian Kaiser spent the month re-evaluating the expenses related to the water department. He also examined the rate study that was conducted previously, which determined how much the rates should go up.

  After collaborating with City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett and Public Works Superintendent Todd Roberts, Kaiser presented the potential rate reduction to the council.

  By postponing certain improvements, which were not essential to the water system’s health, city staff was able to eliminate $114,000 in expenses from the 2013-14 water fund. If the city does not put money toward replacing new meters, and improving parts of the system, citizens’ monthly rates can be reduced by 5 percent.

  “It doesn’t mean we aren’t going to do (those projects) eventually,” said Kaiser. “We felt in order to be responsible to the citizens we need to pull back.”

  “It’s not a lot, but it shows that we are trying,” said Council Member Juliana Mark.

  The base rate on the water bill will drop from $29.30 to $27.80. In the meantime, the council and city staff will continue to look at other options to help cushion the blow of the city’s expensive water system.

Other options

  The original idea for the 5 percent rate reduction was based on recommendations from the public water forum the city held July 17. In an effort to create other potential solutions from the public’s suggestions at the forum, the city has been making plans to help keep the water rates down.

  Kaiser and Scarlett have begun the tedious process of working with National Banks to restructure $1.2 million in loans. If these loans get restructured it could save about $200,000 over the life of the loan.

  Kaiser also said he and Roberts are evaluating the Sixth Street well and the Pacific Street well for possible use. According to Kaiser, the wells were never finished, and if staff discovers the water from them to be potable, then it might be prudent for the city to invest in refurbishing them.

  At the City Council workshop the evening before the City Council meeting, council and staff discussed the possibility of establishing a rebate program if the water fund came out positive within the next year.

  Kaiser also mentioned having geologists study Golden Springs, near Beckwourth Peak. The springs was the city’s main water source in the 1940s and since then it only pumps about 20 gallons per minute, but Kaiser said it could have potential use for the city.

  As of now, the city is no longer using water from the Commercial Street well, due to the excessive amount of arsenic in the water.

  However, the Lake Davis treatment plant, which has been out of commission for a number of years due to a software malfunction, is back in working order and providing fresh water to the town.

  According to Kaiser, the treatment plant is a big expense to the city, and takes up about 40 percent of the water fund’s budget. He said the council and the city will continue to brainstorm and work toward finding cheaper, healthful water for the city.

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