City of Portola discusses aid for water bills
The Portola City Council and city staff responded to questions from citizens B.J. Pearson and Earl Morrison at their last meeting in an ongoing attempt to address “affordability” issues regarding recent water and sewer rate hikes.
City Manager Leslie Tigan reported to Earl Morrison, who was in attendance, that although the city’s attention had been diverted by its involvement in Railroad Days, Todd Roberts of Public Works had almost completed gathering data from the past 10 years regarding water flows from Willow Springs.
Although Pearson was not in attendance, the response to his question regarding programs to help ratepayers had been put on the agenda and was discussed by council, staff and members of the community.
Mayor Dan Wilson reported that the City Utility Assistance Program had been implemented in 2008 to assist utility customers who found themselves unable to pay their water and sewer bill.
The program, which had been proposed by then council member Bill Kennedy, had been funded by donations from council members, but was open to donations from anyone.
The fund had received a total of $2,750 in donations and disbursed $2,728.58 to 34 customers. Only $21.42 remained in the account.
The utility assistance program was administered by the Plumas Crisis and Intervention Resource Center, available locally at the Portola Family Resource Center on Commercial Street.
The city began the process by supplying the applicant with a referral slip, which he or she would then take to the resource center.
Tigan remarked that applicants frequently found the resource center able to point out other programs that were available to help with other needs in their lives.
No one was allowed to use the utility assistance more than once in a six-month period.
Currently, there is no money to allot, so Tigan asked, “How do you think we could generate more interest and donations from others besides council members?”
After some discussion, the council directed staff to send out a letter outlining the program and its need for donations in a Proposition 218 mailing for the most recent solid waste increase.
Staff also agreed to design a flyer that could be given to local businesses asking for their help.
The council also addressed water conservation measures that could be undertaken by customers to reduce their consumption and, hence, their bills.
Tigan reported that the city had given out water conservation kits to help customers adapt when water meters were installed.
The kits included a low-flow shower head, aerators for faucets, a toilet tank displacer and information on water saving techniques.
The kits were available at a cost of $8 plus shipping.
There was considerable discussion about whether the city could or should give them out or have them for sale.
The council consensus was to first see if someone local could produce the same product for the same amount of money or less, and then re-sell it for a price to be determined later.
After discussion, council also directed staff to design a low-water demonstration garden for Baldwin Park to offer landscaping solutions using less water.
Tigan said that the garden could be designed over the winter, and implemented come spring.
The other consensus reached by discussion between council and community members was to provide more information about water-saving fixes for the home.
Council member Curt McBride claimed to have reduced his water consumption at his business by two-thirds and was hoping to do the same at his home. He offered to share his information.
Another resident, Phil Oels, brought a new question for the city to clarify. He asked, “If the water is shut off, is the building then condemned as ‘uninhabitable’?”
Oels said that this had happened to a neighbor of his more than once and it had him worried.
Tigan responded that the city had no such policy and that condemnation procedures had to do with city building codes. She promised to look into the individual situation he described.
In other unrelated matters, Tigan reported that the water tank at the Lake Davis Treatment Plant now had water in it, and was undergoing water quality testing with the state. When will the water go online?
“It probably is still some time away,” said Tigan.
And last, Tigan made another plea to the public for someone to fill the vacancy on the city’s planning commission.