What the Portola City Council thought was water under the bridge proved to be an issue of unrest for select citizens of the city. The change in the utility billing policy that was discussed more than a month ago was brought up again when city staff made revisions to the draft utility billing policy.
The main change in the policy was the implementation of the service availability charge, a $44.56 charge to property owners when their property is empty.
The service availability charge calls for houses that are connected to the city’s water distribution systems and sewer collections systems to be billed a monthly fee regardless of occupation or usage. This charge is to help pay for the maintenance of the system the houses are connected to.
According to City Manager Leslie Tigan, the $44.56 is an amount active system users already pay, so there will be no rise in rates for that category of residents. However, owners of houses or buildings that are hooked up to the system, but to which the water is shut off, will have to begin paying for the maintenance of the system that is connected to their facility.
Tigan said the issue is that when tenants or owners shut off the water, the maintenance expenses falls upon the city. When the house is occupied again, the city is then expected to have maintained the system for free and immediately turn the water on for the customers.
However, City Attorney Steve Gross pointed out that the city gets its money from its citizens, so right now citizens are paying for the maintenance of systems connected to someone else’s property.
“We are just trying to make sure everyone pays their fair share,” said Tigan.
Public attendees Larry Douglas and Kelly Griffiths expressed strong opposition to the change in utility rates, saying it was asking too much of the property owner to pay such a costly amount just for maintenance. Douglas also said raising water rates will drive to public away.
Tigan said the amount was no more than the monthly water meter charge, or base rate of having water and sewer hooked up to a facility. No rates would be raised on occupied houses.
Council Member Juliana Mark asked if there was a way they could compromise by lowering the rate, but Mayor John Larrieu said the city is already more than $200,000 in the hole, and it can’t afford to compromise.
“We’re trying to keep the city afloat,” said Larrieu.
According to Tigan the policy will take some time to implement. Until then, the utility rate adjustment is still pending.
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