Last week, a bare majority of the Utility Ratepayers Advisory Panel (URAP) embraced a recommendation by city staff that the Oxnard City Council raise your sewer bill by a whopping 74%.
The plan calls for 5.25% increases for each of the next five years on top of the 35% increase already implemented last year. Compounded, that works out to over 74%.
Our alternative plan to freeze rates at current levels, generating a sufficient amount of revenue to cover every needed repair recommended by city staff over the next two years – instead of staff’s proposal for a ten-year $309 million spending spree – was unfortunately rejected.
The majority of the panel – all hand-picked by city council members – had a very different point of view than the 72% of voters who rejected an 87% increase at the ballot in November.
If this proposal is approved by the Oxnard City Council, it will raise a typical household’s sewer bill from last year’s $30.93 to a stunning $54.15 per month. That’s an extra $278.64 per year out of your pocket. Of course, if your household is larger than typical, your bills will grow even more.
And that’s just your sewer bill. The city council also plans to raise your water bill later this year.
If this scheme is adopted, Oxnard’s wastewater utility is scheduled to more than triple its debt to almost $400 million over the next ten years. And with today’s revenues of $30 million per year, the debt payments alone will exceed the current revenues of the wastewater utility.
That means the increases planned during these next five years are only a down payment on what is to come the following five years – a prescription to make Oxnard ratepayers debt slaves to bondholders.
While the URAP vote may have been stacked against us from the beginning when it came to rate increases, we did get them to recommend two reforms that we proposed – in spite of opposition by city staff:
- With a 6-0 vote, the URAP recommended mandating an annual status report on each of the projects listed in the most recent Cost of Service Study. In the past, city staff would recommend millions of dollars be spent on capital improvements – raising your rates to pay for them – and then not do them. Of course, those same unfinished projects are used to justify the next set of rate increases. If implemented, this recommendation will require city staff to explain why they didn’t complete promised projects.
- With a 4-3 vote – really by the skin of our teeth – the URAP recommended that the City of Oxnard no longer charge its utilities an infrastructure use fee. See our blog article for more details, but this is essentially a SCAM that robs more than $7 million per year from the city’s three utilities and transfers the loot into the general fund. This has been going on for decades and is a big reason why tens of millions of dollars have been unavailable for needed repairs … and this practice leads to even higher utility rates.
What happens now is like trying to follow a bouncing ball.
The URAP recommendations will be presented to the Utilities Task Force (UTF) – two members of the city council – which will meet this Thursday, March 2, at 4:00 p.m. in the City Council chambers.
The UTF will then make its recommendation to the Oxnard City Council next Tuesday on March 7, who will decide whether to give staff the green light to mail out rate increase notices at the end of this month. The council then must wait a legally-required 45-day period before conducting public hearings to adopt those increases.
Stay tuned. Things are about to become interesting.