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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on June 21st, 2022, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 23, Issue 17 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 23, Issue 17

Solvang approves water and wastewater rate increases

By Caleb Wiseblood

The Solvang City Council’s latest discussion about water infrastructure took a structureless turn during a recent public hearing on utility rate increases.

Councilmember Mark Infanti put a pause on public comment during the City Council’s June 13 meeting, after multiple individuals criticized a new five-year water and wastewater rate structure, proposed to take effect in July.


WINDMILLS AND WATERHOLES
Members of the Solvang City Council unanimously approved a new five-year water and wastewater rate structure, which includes fixed costs for residences and commercial businesses that will gradually increase each year through 2027.
FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

“Normally in the public comment, we just allow people to speak and then we talk amongst ourselves and make some decisions, but I think it’s important that the people of the city understand a few things,” Infanti said before public comment closed.

The new rate structure includes fixed utility rates for residences and commercial businesses that will gradually increase each year through 2027, regardless of how much water is used. Infanti defended the approach and described the fixed rates as necessary.

“It’s kind of like property taxes. The property taxes are necessary to run your city and run the county and the state,” Infanti said. “These are necessary to run the water and wastewater departments.”

According to the staff report, Solvang’s water and wastewater rates have not increased since 2016. In 2021, the city hired HDR Engineering to complete a new rate study. 

During the June 13 meeting, Jose Acosta, Solvang’s utilities director, said that the proposed rate increases are based on the results of the rate study and will fund needed improvements for aging water infrastructure.

Infanti said some of the facilities Acosta was referring to are more than 50 years old.

“If any one of them breaks, you don’t have water,” Infanti said, and described the fixed rate increases as “the way we get the money to fix and upgrade those [facilities].”

Councilmember Claudia Orona also defended the rates before public comment closed, in response to a few individuals’ complaints that the fixed costs are not fair to residents who are consciously trying to conserve their water usage.

“If everybody conserves water at the same time, then there’s no funding coming on to fund the water services, and this needs to be sustainable no matter what,” Orona said. “You need to cover the cost to operate your wastewater treatment plant, and to bring the water, and to service the piping and everything, whether you are using it [water] or not.”

Infanti said he tries to conserve water whenever he can, but not with the expectation that his water bill will go down.

“I’m in the same boat as all of you. I got rid of my grass, I got drip irrigation, I water maybe once a week and not very often, not very long. It’s all drip,” Infanti said. “My bill doesn’t go down, it really doesn’t.”

Infanti added that fixed rates are put in place to make sure water is available to city residents, whether they decide to use it or not.

Public comment was still open when someone from the audience asked to approach the stand and respond to Infanti’s comments, but Mayor Charlie Uhrig responded with “not right now.”

After another voice spoke up in the audience to ask a question, Uhrig said “I need you just to sit down, we need to keep moving on.”

“We’re trying our best, it’s all we can do,” Uhrig said. “Everyone is paying the fair share, it doesn’t feel like it, it doesn’t feel like that to us sometimes, but we all are here together. … Public hearing is closed.”

In a 5-0 vote, the Solvang City Council ultimately agreed to adopt the new utility rate structure.










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