When the Ridgecrest City Council meets Wednesday for a light agenda with no action items, at least one consent calendar item will likely be pulled for discussion anyway.
The Ridgecrest City Council will be asked to approve an increase of three percent or $11.01 to this year's sewer fees.
This amount was originally determined as part of a five-year fee rate increase schedule approved on June 5, 2013. This raise marks fifth year of a five-year plan which was based on the 2013 rate study. The study was intended to provide a way to raise funds for a new sewer/wastewater facility for the area. The idea behind the graduated rate increases was to increase rates across time rather than all at once.
Although the meeting has not taken place yet, the agenda topic has already proven controversial. Stan Rajtora emailed Mayor Peggy Breeden, the Daily Independent and others on July 14. Rajtora questioned why the item was on the consent calendar and the justification for the increase in the first place.
“The consent calendar is for noncontroversial items. The wastewater fund is one of the most controversial topics in the city,” Rajtora wrote in his email. “The council should be demanding the staff justify the raise . . . The staff is relying on a rate study performed in 2013, which was flawed back then and is even more flawed now.”
Interim City Manager Ron Strand told the Daily Independent Monday that if anything, the rate study may have underestimated the costs of building a new wastewater treatment facility for the area.
At least two potentially expensive changes have occurred since 2013, according to Strand. One is that the facility may be built in the city of Ridgecrest rather than on the base as originally planned. The other is that the plant may end up including tertiary treatment capabilities, which was not part of the original cost estimate. Both of these changes are like to increase the cost of the facility.
“There's a couple of huge questions that have come up since this time: are we going to build it [wastewater plant] on the base, or are going to build it in town? If it's built in town, we are assuming that there could be more of a cost to it.
“You also have the idea of a tertiary facility that may be part of a GSA solution. I don't think it [fee increase] is inappropriate at all, because two of those questions were never part of the equation back when it was passed.”
“There was no GSA back when this passed,” Strand said, referring to the new groundwater sustainability agency charged with balancing the use of groundwater in the local basin. Tertiary wastewater treatment would presumably allow some of the water from the wastewater plant to be re-used, so it is a likely component of a GSA-era facility.
In addition, Strand said, wastewater funds are required to repair sewer laterals throughout the city. Wastewater funds were also spent on a sewer study to determine exactly where repairs are needed. Strand said that sewer laterals in some parts of town are in dire need of repair.
“At the end of the day, there might not be enough money to be able to accomplish [all] this,” he said.
Strand said the item probably could have been angendized as a either a consent calendar or a discussion item. He joked that even on the consent calendar it would just get pulled for discussion anyway.
Actually, he said, the sewer fee increase is appropriate as a consent calendar item because the fee increase is part of a schedule that was already approved by a previous council.
According to Robert's Rules of Order the consent calendar is appropriate for “[f]inal approval of proposals or reports that the board has been dealing with for some time and all members are familiar with the implications.”
The regular council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday July 19 at 6 p.m., at City Council Chambers at City Hall, 100 W. California Ave in Ridgecrest.
It will also be broadcast on Mediacom Channel 6 and streamed online at www.ridgecrest-ca.gov/city-media/rc6-live.