Dunsmuir's scheduled water rate increase postponed

Richard DuPertuis

The Dunsmuir City Council voted 4-1 to postpone a scheduled third and final water rate increase during a special meeting Monday morning. Last year, the council voted to postpone the second scheduled water rate increase.

Those speaking for postponement said there was no need for hurry, citing grant applications that are pending and the need for a new engineering report to determine an applicable amount of increase.

The lone “No” vote Monday came from Ed Steele, the only current council member who was also serving in 2009 when the schedule for increases was set.

“The rate increases that are before us today were compromises between what the council had in front of them and what the Water and Sewer Task Force felt it would be possible to live with,” Ed Steele argued before the vote.

He said the amounts of those increases were calculated to bring revenues into the water fund to equal 1.5 percent of the town’s median income, qualifying the city for financial assistance. He said that grant applications now pending might not be enough to pay for all needed replacements and repairs.

“We’re talking about nearly $10 million worth of projects,” he said. “And we’re going to have to borrow some money. If we’re going to have to borrow some money, we’re going to have to meet the guidelines that the state says we need in order to qualify for that.”

Council member Nick Mitchell said they don’t yet know how much work is needed. “PACE [Engineering, in an earlier report] identified over $1 million in sewer lines that needed to be replaced. Now that they’re getting ready to do construction, they dropped a camera down those lines, and guess what? They’re fine. They’re PVC. They don’t need to be replaced.”

He said he doesn’t feel right about rushing to a decision on the issue. “Another six or seven months isn’t going to make that much difference,” he said.

City manager Brenda Bains said there are four areas in town where all the sewer pipes were said to need replacement, and all the pipes in those four areas were found to be new. “That adds $1 million onto our project,” she said. “We may be able to put a new UV system down at the sewer plant to reduce our use of chlorination.”

She expressed surprise over finding new sewer pipes no one knew about and wondered how many more they might find.

Said Mitchell, “Our current rate structure is wrong, so we need to do a new 218 process and roll out a correct rate structure, one that doesn’t favor commercial businesses, one that doesn’t favor the big user. Yes, our rates will probably have to go up. For some they might go down. For others they might go up. For some they might stay the same.”

Mitchell, Raine water usage

Mitchell said that changes made at his grocery store have taken it off the list of the city’s highest users of water. “That’s because we fixed a water leak that was under the sidewalk that nobody knew about,” he said. “That cut our usage down by 40 percent. After that we replaced six of seven water-cooled compressors with air-cooled, cutting our usage down more significantly.”

He said that before renovations, Thriftway Foods was using about 600 units a month. He said usage is now down to 100 units a month, and soon they will replace the last water-cooled compressor. “So I predict Thriftway water usage to go down to about 50 units per month,” he said.

Mitchell’s water usage has for the past two years been the foundation for allegations of conflict of interest in a lawsuit filed by Peter Arth, mayor of the previous city council. Arth was recently denied an injunction by a Superior Court judge that would have barred Mitchell and councilor Chris Raine from any city business involving city water rates.

Arth is appealing that decision.

Mitchell and Raine say they have no conflict of interest.

During the Monday meeting, Raine also read numbers into the record. “My wife’s restaurant, my rod shop, my home and my cabin use a little over 300 units of water a year, combined,” he said. “And I pay for 480. So my water is more expensive than for people who use just 10 units of water per month.”

After the meeting, Raine pointed out that Dunsmuir ratepayers are charged for a minimum usage of 10 units per month. With his four properties, he is obligated to pay for 480 units a year, even if he uses less water than that.

The next regular meeting of the Dunsmuir City Council has been moved up to Aug. 9 at 6 p.m. in council chambers.