Adelanto council rejects water rate increases (September 19, 2016)

Despite forecast of long-term savings, majority of council shoots down plan

ADELANTO — The majority of the City Council recently rejected a water rate study that city officials said would have increased the average monthly bill by about a $1, pointing to its concern for rate payers as more consequential than the proposed hike’s reported longterm savings.

Prepared by consultant Bartle Wells Associates, the study was meant to position the Adelanto Public Utility Authority to not only fund water services, but to also stash away money for capital improvement projects.

It has been four years since there has been a rate increase in this city after a three-year hike was OK’d from 2009 to 2012. Before then, there’d been a hiatus on increases for seven years. City staff have warned council members that prolonged respites would likely significantly boost the size of necessary hikes in the future.

Additionally, Fletcher Davis, a senior consultant at Bartle Wells, told the Council on Sept. 14 that the study would help the city meet a goal of 1.25 times debt service coverage, which is viewed favorably by bond issuers and could result in millions in savings over several years via better grade bond ratings.

It means you’re generating enough revenues to not only pay your operating costs, Davis said, but you have 25 percent above debt service that you’re dedicating to capital improvements or establishing strong cash reserves.

At its core, the proposal would have eliminated a three-tier structure for residential users and single-rate structure for commercial users in favor of a two-tier rate structure for all users effective Oct. 1.

But Councilman Jermaine Wright led the charge against the plan, drawing from two points of contention: Infrastructure upgrades, he claimed, have yet to occur since the last hikes and, plus, Adelanto residents couldn’t afford even a minuscule increase.

You’re asking the residents to pay more money for dirty water, he said.

City Accounting Supervisor Penny Rose replied: I can’t speak to the quality, I —, and then Wright interjected.

I can speak to the quality because I live on the north side and I get brown water, he said, suggesting a disparity in quality existed between the north side and newer south side.

Acknowledging water quality was a legitimate issue, City Attorney Curtis Wright pushed back, however, saying the vote wasn’t about water quality but a bonds saving issue.

Do we make the small increase in rates now to prevent, long term, more significant increases? he said.

But Wright pressed forward, switching his concerns to the proposal’s economic impact on the APUA’s more than 7,600 customers.

Councilman John Bug Woodard sought to assuage those reservations by holding up a Monster energy drink can and, for perspective, telling the Council and audience that monthly bills would only rise at half the cost of the drink.

Yet Jermaine Wright was unrelenting: I know we’re trying to get a better bond rate, he said, but nobody gives a damn about a bond rate when you can’t pay your water bill.

The Council ultimately voted 4-1 to reject the proposed increases, with Councilman Charley Glasper the lone dissenter. Even so, Curtis Wright said a proposed water rate structure change would still have to return to the dais at some point since a recent court ruling declared structures with tiers meant to encourage conservation, like Adelanto maintains, were illegal.

Source: Shea Johnson, Daily Press