It’s a rare day that I support government fee increases. My natural tendency is to wince at the thought. But in this case, I support the proposed Waste Water fee Schedule as the Paso Roble City Council agreed to on the 2nd of February. That schedule proposes we transition from a 100 percent usage-based fee to a fixed and variable rate fee structure.
As citizens of Paso Robles, we own the wastewater treatment facility, and the City staff just operate it on our behalf. They need an appropriate amount of money to operate that facility, and it is fair to ask that they do their best to operate it as efficiently and as effectively as possible. They cannot do that if we force a fee structure that doesn’t properly cover the needed operating expenses and capital upgrades.
I’ve read the January 2021 Waste Water Study, which finds that approximately 80% of the expenses are fixed expenses. Most utilities recognize that some expenses do not vary with capacity, and some do. Those are commonly referred to as fixed and variable expenses, and rates are set accordingly. Our fixed expenses happen to be a large proportion of the total, and so our rates should reflect that.
The last rate study was done ten years ago, so it’s appropriate that the rates be reviewed again. Yes, the recommended rate increases 24%, but that’s because there has been no rate increase in five years. The current variable rate structure hasn’t even covered the needs, which required us to draw down our wastewater financial reserves. Additionally, unlike the previous rate structure, the new ones include a proportion dedicated to meet capital improvement needs. In short, this new rate structure is what any of us would need if we were personally operating that plant, and I fully support it.
The past rates were variable only, based on freshwater usage only. This ignored the fact that the majority of the expenses were fixed operating costs. Then, due to the drought, we as a community embarked on a city-wide water usage reduction effort. This then reduced revenues for the wastewater treatment system.
What’s right isn’t always popular and what’s popular isn’t always right. Past City Council’s have set rates based on popularity, not what’s needed to operate a plant in a fiscally responsible way. It appears this City Council is recognizing we need to be told the truth regardless of if its popularity. Having said that, they are trying to transition to this structure as painlessly as possible.
Please support the Council as they set rates that more closely match the needs. A properly funded wastewater treatment plant is in our best interest as a community.
S. Keith Belmont, Paso Robles