Commentary: Water Rate Hikes Mean City and Taxpayers Will Have to Meet Reality Soon

Community_PoolOn Tuesday night it was good to see the Davis City Council take seriously the notion that they must do more to alert the public to the impending tripling of their water rates than simply follow the Prop. 218 statute.

Full transparency requires more than the pro forma Prop 218 notice.  However, the city remains decidedly old school in their approach to outreach and communications.  A modern communications strategy by the city could reach as much as one-third of the public with the click of a mouse.

The city is also taking seriously the notion of finding ways to cushion the blow of the rate hikes on low income residents.  It will not be easy, but there are ways to do it and the council ordered city staff to spend the next few weeks trying to find answers to those problems.

Still, there is the matter that math is not on our side.  The bigger problem is how to get a larger local government obligation, both in terms of city and school resources, into a shrinking pocket book that the local taxpayer has to spend on such things.

There seems to be a perception that Davis voters will approve any tax. Indeed, there is something to be said for that because, since 2006 when the Davis Vanguard began, the voters have approved a parks tax (2006), School Parcel Tax (2007), Library Tax (2007), School Parcel Tax (2008), Sales Tax Extension (2010), and now another School Parcel Tax.

Still, Measure A passed with a bare two-thirds majority.  A small swing in as few as 100 voters, and we would be talking today about the $3 million in budget cuts the school district faces.

And then you have to look at what is coming down the pike.

In December the first of five annual water rate hikes hit the city.  The 28% rate hike means that rate payers will pay a modest $20 more every other month or $120 more per year than they did last year.  That is the equivalent of half a parcel tax, but that will continue in 2013 when it is $25 more, 2014 when it is $21 more, 2015 when it is $25 more, and 2016 when it is $30 more.

Between now and 2016, we are looking at $150 more for every two months or $900 more per year.  That is like four and a half additional Measure As.

But we are not done.  It appears now that, if allowed, the school district would put the extension of Measure Q and Measure W on the ballot for May 2012 as another all-mail ballot.  That is according to one source, but I wonder if that would even be allowed, given the close proximity to the June city council elections.

And in June, the city would have their own parks tax measure on the ballot.

And for good measure, if the school districts are not seeing increased revenues, it seems plausible that by 2013 the school district is going back to the voters to ask for a renewal of Measure A.

At some point the voters in Davis, generous as they are, are going to say “no mas.”

I have had off-the-record discussions with a number of officials this week about this looming problem.  Some have insisted that the water rate hikes will come in far lower than projected and that this is worst case scenario.

Others pointed out there was sustained anger in the community over the firing of the coach and perhaps the senior survey that drove down the district’s numbers.

Still others have told me in no uncertain terms that they will not allow their budget to be hijacked by the budgetary needs of the city or schools.

There is a City-DJUSD two-by-two meeting this evening, and it seems like this is something that they might wish to discuss.

At the very least, some polling seems in order.

The other problem I have is that while the city and school district fight and posture over who gets first crack at your pocketbook, the entity in most need of money has made no effort to raise any local revenue, that being the county.

Have you tried to get county services lately?  With foster and other dependent kids, we have had to, and in a lot of places it is an absolute nightmare.

The chickens are indeed coming home to roost.  I will be interested to watch next week what the public reaction is to the probable closing of the Community Swimming Pool.  Not much has awakened the public to the magnitude of the crisis that we’re facing, but somehow I think when we shut down the kids’ pool, we will have the public’s attention.

The question is whether we have the attention of our public officials.  The answer to that is pending as well.

—David M. Greenwald

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Observer

    Finally, I don’t see why you present the cost of water and taxes side by side as though it is a choice between the two. I have no idea of how the public will vote, but I hope they will not choose to short the schools because the cost of water has risen. I know I am a lone voice on this issue, but I don’t see $100 a month for good river water as excessive. I bet many of the readers here spend this on bottled water from Costco or from those filter machines at the grocery stores. It costs to live, and yes, it costs a little more to live in Davis, but it is worth it.

  2. roger bockrath

    Isn’t Community Pool where the Davis High Swim Team works out? What good did it do when I voted to increase my property taxes by $600. per year, (supposedly to help protect extra-curricular activities) if the facilities where they occur get shut down by the city? More taxes-less services. I guess we all better get used to it. Meanwhile, where will our high school swimmers practice their Prop A protected sport?

  3. JayTee

    Just speaking for myself, I am not going to vote in favor of any more taxes that show up on a ballot, regardless of who or what it’s for. Enough is enough already.

  4. Rifkin

    [i]”The 28% rate hike means that rate payers will pay a modest $20 more every other month or $120 more per year than they did last year. That is the equivalent of half a parcel tax, but that will continue in 2013 when it is $25 more, 2014 when it is $21 more, 2015 when it is $25 more, and 2016 when it is $30 more.”[/i]

    I have to think that one likely reaction among a large percentage of homeowners in Davis over the next few years will be a large cutback in landscape irrigation. I am aware of the fact that that is one of the goals of the new water district–that we use a lot less water.

    However, there is a bit of a beggar-thy-neighbor aspect* to cutting back on water usage. If everyone does it, the rates will have to go up [i]even more[/i] in order for the water district to raise enough money to pay off their capital expenses. So for awhile it will be a struggle for everyone to rip out their lawns and rid their yards of all but native plants. Having a vegetable garden will become an unbearable expense for many in Davis.

    Again, I realize that there is some public good in this trade-off. But for those who like a green lawn and a vegetable patch and other uses of outdoor water, this change will feel like a lower quality of life.

    *This kind of race to the bottom takes place with electricity savings, as well. If everyone cuts back on how much electricity they use, PG&E can legally raise its rates so that the average bill remains the same, even when they are selling far less electicity. The reason this is allowed is because the CPUC guarantees all publicly regulated utilities a minimum return on capital. So if PG&E’s revenues fall due to conservation, the ratepayers, not the monopoly, are made worse off.

  5. medwoman


    You are not quite alone on this. What I have not heard anyone say is exactly what the cost orf water should be and on what they are basing their opinion. I agree that paying more for better quality water seems reasonable. I do not pretend to know what the ” right amount” to pay would be. I would like anyone who feels we are over taxed to explain on what they are basing that belief.

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