As many in our community are aware, the City of Calistoga is considering increasing water and wastewater utility rates to fund ongoing operations, pay for existing debt, invest in aging infrastructure and address environmental concerns. Since these discussions began, many members of the community have reached out about the process for increasing water and wastewater utility rates. I’d like to share information so that people may be aware.
In 1996, residents of the State of California approved Proposition 218 by 56.6 percent of the vote. This proposition, usually called “Prop 218” imposes requirements for cities to notify affected property owners prior to increasing fees. In some instances, cities must even hold public votes before increasing taxes and fees. In my opinion, one of the most important – and challenging – requirements is that cities must mail notices to affected property owners who would be impacted by these new or increased fees. In addition, Prop 218 provides a mechanism for property owners to “reject” such fees via a simple majority protest.
In the text of Proposition 218, Article XIIID, section 6 imposes certain procedural requirements when property-related fees are imposed or increased. It takes a two-tiered approach. Fees for “sewer, water, and refuse collection services” are subject to the notice, hearing and majority protest procedures outlined below. Other fees for property-related services are subject to these same procedures plus they are subject to a voter-approval procedure.
The procedures in Section 6(a) to impose or increase a “fee or charge” are as follows:
1. Identify the parcels upon which a fee or charge is proposed for imposition.
2. Calculate the amount of the fee proposed to be imposed on each parcel.
3. Provide written notice by mail to the “record owner of each identified parcel.”
4. Conduct a public hearing on the proposed fee not less than 45 days after the mailing.
5. Consider “all protests against the proposed fee or charge.”
6. If written protests against the fee are presented by a “majority of owners of the identified parcels,” the fee cannot be imposed.
The City of Calistoga began its analysis of water and wastewater utility rates in November 2016 and has been working with a utility consultant since that time. That consultant, Bartle Wells Associates, presented its findings and recommendations to the City Council on Nov. 7, 2017. At that meeting, staff requested Council approval to perform item No. 3 and No. 4 on the list above, to provide written notice and schedule a public hearing no less than 45 days later. A public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 2, 2018 which will satisfy the mandatory minimum requirement of Prop. 218. There is nothing that limits the City Council from continuing the hearing, holding additional meetings, etc. In addition, the Council could decide to move forward after that hearing if it chooses. The most important thing is that a public hearing has been held so that members of the community have time and opportunity to share their concerns.
While the City of Calistoga is meeting the requirements of Prop 218, the City will likely take extra time to consider the rates, receive public feedback, answer questions, etc. In my experience in Calistoga, this City Council has used a variety of means to gather public input concerning important issues. For example, Mayor Canning holds “Community Forums” to discuss certain topics of interest and the City is planning on a community forum related to water and wastewater rates. Also, Council has “continued” agenda items for periods of time to study the issues and make the best decision they feel is necessary. Of course, your City Council members have also been asking for feedback and shared thoughts since we began this discussion over one year ago.
Thank you and please don’t ever hesitate to contact me.