The Proposition 218 protest period for the proposed utility rate adjustments ended at the close of a public hearing during the Dunsmuir City Council meeting on April 22. For those who hoped that enough protests were filed to stop the possibility of rate hikes, the evening was a somber one.

The Proposition 218 protest period for the proposed utility rate adjustments ended at the close of a public hearing during the Dunsmuir City Council meeting on April 22. For those who hoped that enough protests were filed to stop the possibility of rate hikes, the evening was a somber one.

While the council did not vote to approve the rate increases at the meeting, representatives from Bailey and Millington, an independent accounting firm hired by the city, tallied a total of 541 protests.

Under proposition 218, if more than 50 percent of Dunsmuir property owners or utility customers filed protests, the city council would not be able to approve the rate increases.

Since there are 1,610 parcels in Dunsmuir, the city would have had to receive 806 protests in order for the rate increases to be off the table.

The multi-year rate adjustments would double residential base water fees by July of 2012, and the monthly wastewater rate would jump by $10 by July of 2011.

The city council wishes to apply for a loan to fund water and wastewater infrastructure projects and the rate adjustments would make it possible for the city to make its loan payments.

During the public hearing, a number of area residents questioned the legality of the city’s protest process.

The protest period, which began in February, is actually the second one held by the city.

Members of the city council admitted in February that the first protest process was flawed since the forms contained incorrect information, and not every property owner and utility customer received a mailing.

The process was repeated to ensure that it was conducted correctly.

However, many April 22 meeting attendees stated that the latter protest process was riddled with errors as well.

Attendees pointed out misleading language in the protest forms, and many claimed that once again a number of parcel owners and utility customers did not receive protest forms in the mail.

Mayor Peter Arth responded that the city attorney, the budget committee, and the entire city council read and approved the updated protest forms before they were mailed out. He said that the wording in the mailing was quite clear.

Arth further stated that city staff, in conjunction with the city attorney, put forth its best effort to ensure that everybody that could protest had the opportunity to do so.

Water and Sewer Task Force member Rick Chan suggested that the city enter into a contract with Bailey and Millington to investigate the protest process to ensure that it was legitimate.

“I think this is illegal,” public hearing attendee Debby Spagnalo said to the council. What is wrong with you? I’m going to find an attorney and sue you.”

Nick Mitchell said that this issue will prompt a recall of the council members. Noting that the business community will be financially devastated by the rate adjustment, Mitchell added, “You have done enough damage to our city.”

The council will discuss the proposed rate adjustments during its regular meeting on May 6. However, it is still unknown whether the councilors will vote to approve the increases at that time.