By Susan Motander
After a remarkably brief and cogent public hearing, as required by Proposition 218, the Monrovia City Council voted to approve water and sewer fee increases. The funds generated from this will be used to make improvements to the city’s water and sewer systems.
According to the staff report submitted to the council, the increase will result in an average rate increase per homeowner of $10 for water and an additional $4 for sewage. According to City Manager Oliver Chi, even with the rate increase, the Monrovia rates are within the norm of other local cities with their own water systems.
The Monrovia Renewal Program is a three-pronged plan to repair the city’s water and sewer systems along with its streets and sidewalks. All three areas have been the victims of deferred maintenance. The total cost for repairing and replacing outdated water and sewer lines and repairing and resurfacing substandard streets will be $51.7 billion.
The funds for the street repairs will come from Measure R and Proposition C funds. These monies already have taxpayer approval, but can only be used for road and transit projects. The funds generated by the water and sewer fee increases will be used on the water line and sewer repairs.
According to Director of Public Works Tina Cherry, in 2014 there were 171 breaks in water lines – an average of almost a break every other day. She also noted that emergency repairs were twice as costly as regular maintenance.
Several of those who objected to the fee increase did so, not because of the increased cost, but rather because of what they called the manner of the presentation. Chi, Adams, and City Attorney Craig Steele all pointed out that the State Constitution as mandated the process amended by Proposition 218 in 1996. In 2006 the California Supreme Court ruled that this process applied to water and sewer fee increases.
Adams pointed out that this mandatory process was costly and that the city had not increased fees since that time because of this costly process. He said that the increase was overdue.
There had also been objections to the fact that the fee increase did not include a “sunset clause” meaning that when the deferred maintenance had been paid for in 20-25 years, the fee increase would remain in place. To this, Adams pointed out that by that time the costs would be higher. He asked, “Who thinks things will not cost more in 20 years?”
Ultimately, written protests were counted by City Clerk Alice Atkins. These fell far short of the required 50% +1 of those who pay water and sewer fees. The process was therefore allowed to move forward and the council voted unanimously to approve the rate increases. According to Cherry, the fee increases will go into effect on Nov. 20, 2015 and will be reflected on homeowners December of January bills.
At the meeting, Mayor Tom Adams said to those in the audience “Monrovia owes you an apology,” regarding the council’s earlier failure to act to improve city’s aging infrastructures. He added, “We can’t change our history, but we can change our future.” He also pointed out that this was the issue that prompted him to run for mayor in the last election rather than to remain as a council member alone.