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Council votes ‘yes’ to $64,000 questions

Diana Jorgenson
Staff Writer

For the next four months, Portola water customers will not have to pay for their water usage in order to give a group of citizens time to receive and review responses to questions put before the city regarding rate increases implemented last summer.

Ratepayers will still receive bills and their sewer and solid waste fees will remain the same. They will also be billed the basic water facility charge, based on the size of their water connection. But the water itself will be free.

Based on last year’s water usage, City Manager Leslie Tigan estimates the loss in city revenues will amount to approximately $64,000. At the end of the four months from February through May, the actual amount of lost revenue will be transferred from the General Fund to the Water Fund to compensate for the loss to the water fund, which is already $370,000 in the red.

“In the end, we’re going to end up having to do this (rate increases) anyway because we have to pay the bills. Water’s not free.”

John Larrieu, Portola City Council

Although that averages a $16 per month per household savings for residents, in fact, it will be the biggest water users, like the schools and the hospital, that will see the greatest savings.

And since this time of year is the lowest usage period, even the biggest water users won’t see the savings they would have in other seasons.

In presenting Resolution No. 2116 to the council and an audience of about 20 people, Mayor Juliana Mark announced, “This is actually our community who has asked for this (resolution) and these four months. That is why we are here. We have a responsibility to them. We also have a fiduciary responsibility to them as well as to the city. It makes it a difficult decision.”

Mayor Pro Tem John Larrieu asked about costs and whether the withholding of water charges would require computer changes.

“I wanted to be sure we had an idea of what it cost because we’ve been spending a lot of money: there are a lot of expenditures going on concerning this whole issue,” Larrieu said.

Tigan called it “an olive branch.” She reported that staff had had a conference call that day regarding the citizens’ questions and she thought the answers would be completed soon, and in writing, as requested.

Citizen Fran Roudebush commented, “In conflict resolution training, this would be known as a BATNA — the best alternative to a negotiated agreement.”

Council member Dan Wilson noted again that his olive branch had been rejected by the group and said, “I don’t agree that the whole community is here supporting this resolution.”

Mark responded, “But this is the community that is showing up.”

Wilson suggested again that the council wait until after the special election to get a better idea of the public mind.

“The recall has nothing to do with the citizens’ group moving forward. That’s a separate issue,” Mark responded. “I still stand where I stand.”

“And I stand where I stand,” said Wilson.

Resident Lorrie White commented that she was a part of the community and deserved to be listened to as well. She felt that the four-month rate “reduction” was just “kicking the can down the road.”

“I believe you’ve already made up your mind, Mayor. It doesn’t matter what anybody says because you’ve got a small group of very loud people here and you want to appease them,” she said.

Citizen Jeanne Dansby responded, “We’re not saying the rates are too high; we don’t know that yet. But that’s why we want four months. We wanted four months four months ago.”

Resident Randy Mark, announcing himself as a water operator, added, “I think between the skill they have in the operators here and the skill they have in the brains in this group that wants the answers, the 64 grand is nothing. These guys are going to come up with the answers and I plan on being a part of that.”

Citizen B.J. Pearson went on at length about the cost of the Lake Davis Treatment Plant and people’s inability to afford it. He concluded, “You can’t get blood out of a turnip.”

Citizen David White asked, “In spite of the protest from the few who represent this massive number of people who never come to council meetings, how do they intend to help you, the council, and Leslie at the city to pay off this $370,000 deficit? The issue is $370,000 in a city of 2,000 people and nobody seems bothered by this.”

Roudebush responded: “We agree with you.”

Mark then cut off further commentary.

Chief Financial Officer Susan Scarlett reported that she had asked the city’s auditor for an opinion regarding the transfer of funds from the General Fund to the Water Fund and was told that a one-time transfer authorized by the resolution would be OK. She read the auditor’s opinion: “However, we would not expect that the fund would receive repeated subsidies from the General Fund since the intent of a proprietary enterprise fund is to recover its costs through user charges.”

Council member William Weaver then motioned to approve the resolution; Mark made the second.

Before casting the third and definitive vote, Larrieu stated, “I hate to see us spending a lot more money on any of this because at the end, I think we’re going to come back to where we were in the first place. But if this resolution will calm things down and get us through these questions, whatever they are, I’m favoring the resolution.”

Council members Wilson and McBride voted “no.” And the “ayes” have it: free water for all.


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