Voters will have a choice during the November general election to recall Dunsmuir City Council member Mario Rubino. However, before citizens hit the poll booths, Rubino wants a few messages to be made clear.
Rubino and Mayor Peter Arth’s recall effort was launched shortly after last spring’s Proposition 218 protest process. When an insufficient number of protest forms were filed, the city council was given the green light to approve multi-year water and sewer rate increases.
City staff is currently preparing a USDA application for a $5.319 million loan to address high-priority utility infrastructure projects.
Five vocal opponents of the city’s decision to raise rates and take out the loan are now running in the city council races.
Rubino said that regardless of what these council candidates are saying, “No city council can rollback the rate hikes without de-funding the Enterprise Fund, which is against the rules of city governance.”
Cities are required by law to have Enterprise Fund reserves, confirmed city manager Jim Lindley at the Aug. 5 city council meeting. He stated that the city’s reserve funds are very low.
Rubino commented that many state statutes require that rates be set to adequately provide for the payment of interest and principle on previously allocated bonds, as well as to provide sufficient revenue to maintain utility infrastructure.
Rubino points out that rather than running for city council, the rate hike opponents could have taken a more direct action. They could have filed a tax initiative to rollback the monthly utility rates and gathered signatures for the measure to appear on the November 2 general election ballot.
He noted that rate hike and loan opponents had more power to stop the rate increases as citizens than they would if elected to serve on the city council.
Rubino stated that these candidates, if elected, will have an obligation to ensure that the city’s utility revenues satisfy bond debts and state-mandated infrastructure needs. If they do not fulfill that obligation, the state will come in and set the utility rates themselves.
As far as statements made by city council candidates who indicated that they would like to identify a pay-as-you-go approach to fixing infrastructure in lieu of taking out a $5.319 million loan, Rubino said that this is just not possible.
Had the city previously established Enterprise Fund reserves, maintained the water and sewer system, and not implemented a rate decrease in 2001, Rubino said a pay-as-you-go plan would have been feasible.
“It is too late for pay-as-you-go, stated Rubino. “It is pay-for-your-negligence time now.”
Rubino used the Bush Street water main as an example of why a pay-as-you-go approach is not a possibility.
Without reserves in the city’s Enterprise Fund, Rubino noted that the Bush Street water main problem is a serious issue that the city may not be able to afford to address.
The water main has numerous ruptures, and its transmission line is in need of replacement. This will cost the city $150,000 that it does not have.
“It would take seven to eight years to accumulate enough funds to replace the Bush Street water main under a pay-as-you-go plan,” Rubino said.
In addition to Bush Street, Rubino points out that much of the city’s infrastructure is at a breaking point, and that the loan and utility rate increases are the most feasible solutions to these growing problems.
In Rubino’s Notice of Intention to Circulate a Recall Petition, his recall proponents allege that Rubino neglected to show any interest in community concerns over the water and sewer rate increases.
The notice continues by stating that Rubino voted against the desires and well-being of the community.
“It breaks my heart that I would be thought of as so callous that I would not care that the effects of my actions would cause hardship on other Dunsmuir residents,” said Rubino. He noted that he survives on a low income, and “To raise the water and sewer rates was to increase the financial hardship on ourselves.”
Rubino clarified that Proposition 218 does not allow for municipalities to make rate hike exceptions for the elderly and poor. Yet he stated that the feedback from many constituents is that the council is trying to push low-income residents out of town with the rate increases.
“The naked truth is that the city of Dunsmuir’s infrastructure is in dire need of repair. Past councils ignored this situation, and now we must act,” he said.
Dunsmuir’s infrastructure improvement list currently totals $11.5 million.