Mountain View Voice

News - May 4, 2012

Utility rate hikes are on the way soon

City hit with higher water cost despite conservation program

by Daniel DeBolt

City Council members were shocked to learn Tuesday that for the city government, saving water doesn't pay.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, it was revealed that the city has to pay for not using much water in a new contract with the SFPUC. On the bright side, Shoreline Fund property taxes are $5 million higher than anticipated, leaving a balance of nearly $40 million.

"With this SFPUC agreement we basically paid $367,000 because we didn't use enough water," said council member Laura Macias at the May 1 meeting. "We spent a lot of time talking to our residents about conservation and recycled water and at the end of the day it kind of backfired."

The San Francisco Public Utilities contract was renegotiated with the city two years ago, and is a 25-year agreement, said Public Works Director Mike Fuller. He noted that he was not involved in the negotiations, but noted that those who did wanted to make sure the city had plenty of water allocated — and apparently paid a price for that guarantee.

Council members suggested that the city try and sell the water to someone else rather than pay, but Fuller said the city isn't allowed to do that in the contract.

"Couldn't we just put it in tankers and take it somewhere?" said Mayor Mike Kasperzak.

"I guess we could if we had a use for it," Fuller said.

"It just seems extraordinary to have that much water and have to pay for not using it," said council member Ronit Bryant. "I recall that there were cities who thought they were not getting enough water."

Utility rates to increase

Water, sewer and garbage rate increases are likely on the way, say city staff members, who are recommending an 8 percent increase to water rates, a 3 percent increase in garbage rates and a 5.5 percent increase in sewer rates to offset the city's increased costs for those services, which are all provided by outside agencies.

The water rate increases would pay for a rate increase of 11.4 percent from the SFPUC, from which the city receives most of its water, while the remainder comes from the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which is increasing rates by 7.9 percent for treated water and 9.3 percent for well water.

Shoreline Fund overflowing with cash

There seems to be no shortage of money in the city's unique Shoreline Fund, which appropriates property taxes in Google's neighborhood north of Highway 101.

Finance Director Patty Kong said that the fund will see $30.5 million this fiscal year while the city had budgeted revenues at only $25.5 million. Ostensibly due to Google's ongoing property buying spree, it leaves an extra $5 million for the fund which pays for maintenance and improvements to the area and Shoreline Park. The special tax district does not share the bulk of its revenue with the city's general fund, local public schools, or the county as it otherwise would.

The Shoreline Fund, which was created by special state legislation, is in its second year of a deal to share as much as $13.6 million with Mountain View's schools over three years. As part of that deal, the city must project its ongoing expenses for maintaining the Shoreline Park landfill, potential costs of sea level rise and new transportation systems in the area. City staff say those studies will finish next year.

Kong said $10 million from the fund would placed into a reserve for projects or land acquisition in the area, leaving the balance for the fund at $37.4 million.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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