Protest Sewer Rate Increase

Los Osos must protest the substantial sewer rate increase Los Osos is in the throes of a sewer rate increase already. The 218 process is supposed to end in a public hearing before the Board of Supervisors on April 21st. Currently, our county, along with the rest of the world, is postponing all types of large gatherings; this process should be postponed as well.

So far this year Los Osos experienced a $4 rise in our monthly garbage bill, now, over the next five years the Los Osos wastewater customers are facing a 19% increase in their sewer bill. Sewer rates will jump up $10 per month the first year, $12 per month the next and $3 a month more for each of the following three years. To put it in perspective; the $2,000 you pay per year now will increase to roughly $2,400 by 2025.

What you won’t hear much about from the County or the local press is the significant hit Los Osos businesses will feel with the increase in sewer rates. Commercial rates will rise disproportionately by $72 in year one, they’ll shoot up by $144 the next and then will go up another $12 per month for each of the following three years. This brings their average sewer rate to $527 a month by 2025.

In light of the news today, with small businesses shuttering due to social isolation and closures, the County needs to rethink the timing and scope of these increases. Any increases will have to be passed on in costs of goods and services; Joe Los Osos Citizen pays again and again and again. Do not forget, these are only your sewer bills; these numbers are based on your water consumption during January and February each year. Any additional use from year to year may drive these numbers higher.

Residents and business owners in the wastewater service area have an opportunity to stop the increase. There’s a simple protest form that provides a checkbox (Vote NO) and signature line attached to the four-page letter sent to all property owners. The letter purports to explain the reasons for the increase, calculates charges and identifies the increase for your parcel type. A protest form is not necessary, a simple letter identifying your property by address or assessor’s parcel number, signature and statement voting “No” sent to the County Clerks’ office before April 21st is acceptable. Include a request to postpone all action on this matter.

After a 30-year sewer saga, the County built and operates the wastewater facility located behind the cemetery. Yet, in their haste to “get’er done” many contracts were sole-sourced, consultants hired and re-hired to perform countless re-do’s of studies and engineering but still made costly mistakes, including a $23 million lawsuit that resulted in $10 million settlement; after $3 million in legal fees were spent defending it.

During the construction process the County paid consultants approximately $20 million to make sure the project was built properly. The County has failed to recover any of the millions of dollars to date from consultants who were responsible did not do their jobs. All tolled there were numerous missed opportunities to provide a lower-cost system. In one important instance, the County had the opportunity to request a lower the interest rate on a $69 million loan from the State — a political body often swayed by public input. Some of us offered to spearhead a community-wide letter writing campaign to plead for something less than 2% interest rate, we were ignored and the rate remains 2%. Any interest savings would have been substantial and helped with affordability.

It will take 50 percent plus one valid written ratepayer protest’s to stop the increase. Check the box, sign and send in today. Voice your objections in writing and at future public hearing(s). Add a notation; ask that the deadline, hearing and implementation of the new rates be postponed. A failed vote will force the County to find efficiencies to reduce expenses. Today’s low interest rates might be favorable for refinance. Look at contracting out the operations verses paying life-long salaries and benefits. Look to co-generation of methane for electricity to offset high energy costs. Surely there are other ways to reduce costs. Look under every rock to save this community money.

Julie Tacker
Los Osos

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