In what has been a contentious matter since last September, the Live Oak Council voted Wednesday night to increase the water and sewer rates to customers.
Many variables were brought up again as the packed audience listened to the many concerns of council members, especially Councilman Jason Banks.
The City Council last adjusted water rates in 2005 and last adjusted sewer rates in 2012.
"The final rate report was adopted unanimously on July 19, 2017, officially starting the 45 day Proposition 218 protest period. A Public Hearing was held on September 27, where it was reported a majority protest from the community to the proposed rate adjustments did not occur, officially enabling the City Council to adopt the rate proposals. Council voted at that time not to adopt the proposed rates," the report submitted to Council from City Manager Jim Goodwin stated.
Last October, the Council requested a time study regarding the time spent by City staff on both water and sewer daily tasks.
Finance Director Joe Aguilar told Council each staff member had kept track of their time whether it be the staff outside City Hall who kept their own time sheets or office staff with computers.
Aguilar reported 80 hours spent for 20 staff members, 130 for himself and when Goodwin was asked he stated he spent somewhere in the middle between 80 and 130 hours.
Councilman Banks had announced he was going to file a Freedom of Information Act because he had requested copies of the time studies at 2:30 the previous afternoon and did not receive the requested study.
Aguilar stated he had to clear the request with the City Manager first and he had to leave the office at 3:30 p.m., Tuesday. Aguilar said on Wednesday he had to prepare for auditors.
"I didn't refuse. I had no time," Aguilar said.
Besides the time study of employees actual time spent on water and sewer matters, another concern is the fact that the City has not paid for their own entire water usage including parks measuring 85,000 cubic feet and at the lowest of $1.20 would be well over $100,000 annually. It has been at least a decade since the City has paid for their own water according to Councilman Banks, which means 20 percent of the total water used has not been paid.
"Staff is right. There is no law saying the City should pay but if we had been collecting we would have over $750,000 in the water account,"according to Banks.
Councilman Banks continued, "I'm not saying water should not go up but we can make a plan to make it right to alleviate the cost to the average citizen. We all agreed it is not equitable to not paying bills. I cannot be a party to it."
Councilman Banks pointed out the cost for the water and sewer plant is listed at $1.1 million stating, "but if you turn the page $1.1 million for the solar addition is included in the rate based on charts I saw. The $1.1 million was included in the proposed rates. Can you explain that discrepancy? Why does it say we aren't going to charge people but shows $1.1 million. Can you explain that?"
Aguilar stated "I didn't do the rate tables. Once it is a fixed asset it is part of utilities whether it is reserves or a grant, it starts depreciation. We have to replace solar panels, have to depreciate."
Aguilar continued, "We are on the radar because we have had no rate increase since 2012. We are already dealing with questions from the State Water Board. We have had these questions before.
The City of Live Oak received a petition with 500 signatures against the water and sewer rate increase but the required amount was 1,000 signatures.
Three speakers from the audience opposed the increase with Anna Ross stating her bill would increase to $160 month which would be difficult on a fixed income.
As Vice Mayor Diane Hodges moved to adopt the proposed water and sewer rate increase and adopt the cost allocation for the staff time and Councilman Steve Alvarado gave the second, Councilman Banks asked for three different amendments instead.
The first amendment, passed 3-2 with Vice Mayor Hodges and Councilman Alvarado voting no, was to require the City to pay $200,000 per year to the water enterprise fund for the next five years and non billable water amount used at current rate going forward roughly $100,000 per year to allocate for water used for city properties.
The second amendment passed with a 4-1 vote, the Vice Mayor voting no to Cost allocation time studies of the staff staying in place and being distributed to Council in six months to study at that time.
The third amendment passed unanimously for the $100,000 water study graph showing how much charged to capital improvements to be allocated. Every penny that is being incorporated into water and sewer rate for capital improvements separate fund only cannot be used for management salary.
On March 7, 2018, the Council will view adjustments to amendments from staff, in order to calculate the future rate for water and sewer in order to raise the rate the least possible amount.