Editor’s note: This commentary is written using calculations that were tabulated using the current proposed five-year water rates, as well as water rate forecasts that extend beyond the five-year rates being voted on by the Cloverdale City Council on June 9.
According to City Manager David Kelley, “Hildebrand Consulting provided long-term financial forecasts of rate increases that may be needed beyond Year 5 for transparency and long-term financial planning. At this time it is too early to reliably project or forecast the rate increases that will be needed for Year 6 and beyond, but the rate increases are expected to be significantly lower than the rate increases that are being proposed for the next 5 years.”
According to Hildebrand Consulting, the proposed water rates equal a cumulative increase of 67% over five years and the wastewater rates equal cumulative increase of 51% over five years. The Cloverdale City Council is voting on the water and wastewater rate increases for July 2021-2025. As 2026 gets closer, the council will conduct another five-year rate study to determine rate increases for 2026 and beyond.
To read more about the rate increases being brought forward on June 9, click here.
A triple-digit increase in the cost of water and sewer base rates is once again the topic of discussion for the Cloverdale City Council. When totaled, the rate increase to a single family exceeds 120%, which does not include the 12% increase for the drought surcharge or penalties for using more water than last year. This enormous rate increase for essential services coupled with the drought surcharge and potential penalties will increase the monthly cost for all dramatically. Many of our community members may find this extremely challenging as COVID continues and our community struggles to revert to normal after more than a year shutdown.
To be clear, I believe we all need and want clean water and an effective wastewater system. I certainly do. And to have these systems in place, well maintained, and a cash reserve does not come without cost. I am not against raising the rates modestly and maintaining and even improving the systems accordingly. The city has not communicated this increase well, nor presented the drivers for the proposed growth to the public well, nor has our community had opportunities to provide input during the process.
I also feel that the cost of expanding the system to accommodate future development needs should not be a burden on the existing community without a more significant amount of dialogue and transparency communitywide. Council Member Bagby indicated during the council meeting on Nov. 11, 2020, that she wanted the community to consider "The role that future development plays in our infrastructure" when we assess the needs for the water and wastewater systems' improvements proposed increased rate increases.
This statement intimates the future expansion of Cloverdale, such as the proposed Baumgardner subdivision, should benefit from our updated water and wastewater systems with today's current users covering the cost. Maybe I am reading too much into her statement, but the improvements will expand our capabilities to provide increased services. What is unclear is why we need to increase our ability to provide services and how new connection fees are structured to offset the costs of providing that service either initially or retroactively to new developments. In other words, do new housing units' wet fees cover the cost of adding them to our systems and the associated expansion costs required?
While I am not opposed to raising rates modestly to ensure both water and wastewater systems function well, are well maintained, and capitalized adequately for emergencies, I am opposed to the excessive rate increase proposed. Maybe what makes better sense is to spread the additions and infrastructure improvements over a more extended period. Or perhaps work on the water system and then the wastewater system, or vice-versa.
It seems to me that Cloverdale leadership has not kept the community engaged in the process, nor has the city been transparent with all of the drivers considered for proposing the massive increase. Our community spoke up loudly last November when the previous rate increase proposal was presented. During the feedback session from the community, the citizens asked several questions, and responses have remained elusive. Two key questions unanswered are, 1) Has the city researched other sources of funds, such as state or federal grants? 2) How do new developments within the city (or proposed annexations) impact the proposed budgets?
Our city council members asked us to continue to stay involved during the last massive rate increase proposal. I would encourage our community to get involved letting each of our voices count.
Craig Carni is a resident of Cloverdale.