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Portola City Council implements rate increases effective July 1

Diana Jorgenson
Staff Writer
7/20/2011

In a decisive move, Portola’s City Council passed Resolution No. 2095 at its July 13 meeting, implementing the city’s proposed water and sewer rate increases as of July 1.

The resolution was originally presented May 11. It went through the Proposition 218 process without receiving a majority of protests, and the city held the requisite public hearing.

Although the 218 process was completed successfully, there was enough public protest to cause Mayor Dan Wilson to form the Ad Hoc Committee on Water and Sewer Rates to look further into the study.

Wilson said that, while he believed the rate increases were necessary or the city would face bankruptcy in three – five years, he wanted to know how much of an increase the community thought it could accept, or alternatively, if there was no level of increase the community would support. He thought the ad hoc committee would be able to determine this.

He appointed Mayor Pro Tem Juliana Mark and council member William Weaver to the committee.

Committee meetings, approximately seven of them, were freely attended by a number of community members, many of them former council members.

Mark remarked at the July 13 meeting, “Our intent is to focus on if there is a way to offset the water rate increase. We wanted a stronger understanding of how the numbers were derived.”

Prior to leaving on an extended trip to Spain to participate in his daughter’s wedding, Mayor Wilson became disillusioned with the committee’s actions, as portrayed on its Internet site, and disbanded the committee.

In his absence, Mayor Pro Tem Mark, acting as mayor, reinstituted it at the next meeting. Admitting that the group had gotten off to a slow start and had gotten out of control, she felt that Wilson had misunderstood.

She and Weaver had been constrained by tenets of the Brown Act from speaking to Wilson directly, so much of last Wednesday’s meeting consisted of discussion and explanation between the three of them.

Mark felt that they simply had different perspectives that, with sufficient understanding, might end up being in the same place.

Wilson countered that he had disbanded the committee because it had yet to examine the facts.

“Nothing has been evaluated. It looked to me like that wasn’t happening and it still looks to me like that isn’t happening.”

He cited the most recent list of questions delivered to City Manager Leslie Tigan the previous Friday.

—Were you involved in formulating the numbers?

—What was the mindset regarding formulating the numbers?

—Are the numbers inflated and if so, why?

—Do you feel that inflating the numbers is a good idea?

These questions and others like them felt more like an accusation of a criminal act than trying to understand, Wilson argued. He wanted to disband the committee once again, but felt ineffectual.

“I disbanded it once and it’s like a starfish,” he said.

To do so might make it look like the city did not want to answer the questions, cautioned Mark.

Wilson countered that the questions could always be answered, but that he would prefer those discussions happen in full council.

Mark and Weaver came to agree with him.

Community member Gail Massey thought that discussions with full council and staff present might result in faster answers.

Community member Larry Douglas described at length a mission considerably broader than either Wilson or Mark had envisioned. He summarized, “We are looking for you to be our servants and use our money to your best ability.”

Several other members of the community, council member John Larrieu, City Attorney Steve Gross, and City Finance Officer Susan Scarlet all participated in the lengthy discussion.

“The goal is to have pure drinking water for Portola and an ample supply of it,” said Larrieu. “We’ve done due diligence. We’ve gone through the process. I don’t know where else we could go.”

In the course of discussion, city staff reiterated that all the numbers were in the budget or included in the appendix of the rate study. The methodology and the answers to the other questions were addressed in the body of the rate study.

Tigan went on to answer each of the questions on the list, naming all the employees, describing their duties and how they kept track of their time on different projects.

After the lengthy question-and-answer period, community member Bob Morton expressed his agreement with the mayor’s decision to disband the committee.

“I read the 40-page HDR report and it explains everything that’s going on,” he said. He felt that the committee was just redoing work that had already been done.

“I’m ready to get on with it,” Morton added.

When Wilson asked for input from council members regarding the resolution, Curt McBride finally spoke: “This information has been out there for a long, long time.”

After recounting the history, he motioned to accept the resolution instituting the rate hikes.

Wilson made a quick second.

A request for public comment encouraged Larry Douglas, who said, “I think you are our servants and should be listening to us. We’re really concerned about your 218 process. You violated the intent of it, although you did it legally. You’ve done other things the same way.”

A roll call vote produced three ayes, with Weaver and Mark dissenting.

By comparison, the labor negotiations with Tigan, regarding her new contract with the city, was anticlimactic.

After a relatively brief closed session, with no action to report, the council went back into open session.

Larrieu motioned to approve the contract. All council members were in agreement.

Gross described the terms of the two-year contract: $82,000 per year for both jobs (as city manager and as city administrative services manager), which is about $10,000 more than Tigan’s current compensation.

However, while she serves in dual capacity, she waived compensation she normally would receive as city treasurer and city clerk.

“That comes to $1,800 per year,” said Gross, “so the compensation adjustment is roughly $8,500 per year.”

Gross described the contract as terminable at will by either party. No severance was provided if Tigan were terminated from the city manager position, but was provided in the event she was terminated without cause from both positions. Under those conditions, she would receive six months’ severance pay and three months of health insurance coverage.

Since the city’s adopted budget did not incorporate rate increases, now approved, the additional remuneration granted to Tigan will not add to the deficit. The new rates were designed by HDR Engineering specifically to avoid a deficit.

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