Dunsmuir city council approves initiatives for November ballot
Dunsmuir City Council voted unanimously last week to put two ballot initiatives regarding water/sewer rates and garbage collection up for public vote in the November 2016 regular election.
Both initiatives were spearheaded by former city council member Leslie Wilde, who was not at the special council meeting held Tuesday, June 7.
Dunsmuir City Attorney Rob Taylor gave a summary of the staff reports requested during the regular city council meeting on June 2. Council requested fiscal and Proposition 218 analyses from the city attorney at that meeting on those two initiatives and another regarding medical cannabis cultivation.
Council had two options for each initiative: approve it or send it to ballot.
Council previously voted to send Wilde’s cannabis cultivation initiative to ballot.
Also on June 7, a brief report on the meeting’s closed session was provided by Mayor Josh Spurlock, who only said that direction was given to current acting city manager Pamela Stock regarding the search for a new acting city manager.
Wilde’s water/sewer initiative proposes a flat rate for water utility customers until the 2024 deadline for metered water in the state of California.
The city attorney’s report claims Wilde’s proposed flat rate, which is lower than the current water rate, will have detrimental fiscal impact on the city’s water enterprise fund. After consulting with the city finance director, Taylor said the proposed measure would lead to an estimated revenue decrease of 27%. He predicted a potential increase in city expenditures due to increased water and sewer use.
“As the service would now be based on a flat rate and not use, water and sewer use within the city would likely increase dramatically, leading to increases in supply, infrastructure and operation maintenance costs,” the report states.
Taylor pointed out that an increase in medical cannabis cultivation would likely correlate with an increase in water use.
As stated in the report, “The initiative proponent is currently pursuing a separate measure that would likely increase medical marijuana cultivation throughout the City of Dunsmuir if passed. Other cities that have seen similar expansions in cultivation have seen an uptick of water usage within their community.”
The report is available on the city’s website in the special meeting agenda.
The report states that such an increase in water use would be met with no additional city revenue if both measures were to pass.
The attorney’s analysis also suggests the city’s plans for water infrastructure upgrades, which cost upwards of $13 million, will be jeopardized. The majority of Dunsmuir’s water mains are aged beyond their life expectancy and impaired by numerous leaks.
The report states, “Current water rates within the City of Dunsmuir were passed following an extensive Proposition 218 process addressing the need for funding of water capital improvements within the city.” Taylor added the city would “likely not meet its non-grant funded need for improvements,” with the passage of this measure.
Regarding compliance with Proposition 218, Taylor said the proposed measure “would not likely create any Proposition 218 issues for the city in the near term, but would significantly restrict the city’s ability to ever set a water rate system that harmonizes revenues with costs.”
Several citizens spoke in the public comment period, all of whom were opposed to Wilde’s water initiative. Public commenters were in support of the city’s efforts to improve water infrastructure.
Treasurer Mario Rubino suggested the need for a group of community citizens to spread information and organize an effort against these initiatives.
Mayor Josh Spurlock said he was pleased to hear that everyone at the meeting was opposed to the initiative and encouraged them to share information with their neighbors regarding what he referred to as “something coming up on the November ballot that is a very, very bad idea.”
Council member Bruce Deutsch repeatedly reminded the public of the fact that the city completed two Proposition 218 processes in which only 40 people protested the water rates and nobody protested the garbage rates.
Wilde’s solid waste initiative would not change garbage rates, but the nature of the service from mandatory to voluntary.
Since it’s impossible to know how many ratepayers would opt out of the garbage collection service, Taylor said it’s difficult to determine the exact decrease in revenue.
His report states that “present garbage rates are already set below the cost of the Clemens contract,” so “any further drop in revenues will simply increase the gap between the city’s solid waste costs and revenues, thus accelerating the depletion of the city’s solid waste reserves.”
Taylor added there’s no way of telling what those people who opt out will choose to do with their garbage. “Improperly managed solid waste could result in an increase in health and safety and public nuisance issues within the city. This would result in an increase in abatement costs to the city,” the report states.
Council member Bryce Craig said his primary concern with the notion of voluntary garbage service is the health and safety risks associated with accumulated garbage. Another concern, he said, is the financial stability of the solid waste enterprise fund.
Deutsch said, “This is a rogue element that has decided that they’re going to put all of our efforts to do things the right way – all of the hours we put into everything, all of the trust we put into our counselors and the experts – in the trash with this particular initiative.”
In response, Craig said he wanted to “respectfully disagree” with Deutsch. “I’m not in favor of adopting this initiative tonight because I’m in favor of the city having mandatory trash service. I think it solves a lot of problems that get created when cities have voluntary trash service.”
Craig said, “It’s the right of any citizen to put forth legislation, and in this town it only requires about a hundred signatures to do so. I don’t want it to seem like the city council that I sit on is opposed to citizens exercising their rights.”