Calexico city officials and residents failed to agree on a plan to increase water and sewer rates during a July 23 meeting in the city manager’s office to which a Chronicle reporter was denied access.
It was the second meeting between city officials and residents following the city council’s failure to approve recommended rate increases at its July 5 meeting. The council backed off on the fee hikes in the face of strong public opposition and voted to work with residents to develop a new plan.
City officials and a consultant’s report state the funds are vital to maintaining and upgrading the border city’s aging water and sewer systems. Following the recent meeting and another on July 16 it appears residents are still not sold on the idea.
"Honestly, I don't think we're any closer to a resolution, not at the moment," said David Romero, a member of the city Economic Development/Financial Advisory Commission who attended the July 23 meeting.
Reached by telephone on July 24, he added, "Information is coming out
bit by bit and that creates uncertainty of the citizens to approve of a rate increase. (Commissioner) Enrique (Ramirez) is still taking it all in and has not taken a stand yet."
Besides Romero and Ramirez of the commission the meeting included Mayor Lewis Pacheco, City Manager David Dale, Assistant City Manager Manuel Figueroa, Council Member Armando Real and several residents.
The meeting was held in Dale’s city hall office. A reporter arrived and entered the office before the meeting began at which point Dale requested he leave stating the meeting involved negotiations.
It was not clear if the meeting was an official meeting of the commission. It is not listed among the commission meetings on the city website. The city has also not stated how it is decided which members of the public are attending the rate meetings and how they have been notified or recruited.
Meetings of public bodies are open to the public under the state Brown Act, though “closed sessions” are allowed for some personnel, legal and property-negotiation matters. The act also requires public meetings to be noticed in advance, including the release of an agenda.
Under the act citizens who think an agency violated it may win a variety of remedies if they file a civil lawsuit.
The sticking point for the rate proposals is that some residents said the city’s initial plan financially burdened residents by raising rates faster than needed to address system improvements. It called for increasing revenues five percent this year and 4.5 percent for the next four years.
Dale has said the corresponding water-rate changes would be fair because they would charge more to those who use more. Residents countered by arguing it would greatly increase costs for many.
Still under consideration is the citizen proposal of extending the plant upgrades from a five-year plan to a longer one that will better accommodate ratepayers’ budgets.
"Pretty much what they (city staff) states is by stretching out the plant
upgrades that will make everything more expensive, according to their engineers' study (Wildan Financial Services)," Romero added.
Residents Alfredo and Karla Ibarra also attended the meeting. Karla Ibarra noted there was no offer from the city to decrease prices from the initial rate restructuring plan and no proof of needed repairs or lists of specific plant infrastructure to be replaced.
"Lowering rates to low-water consumers would be ideal," said Ibarra. “Unfortunately, the model presented by the city only offers
increases above the present plan to all residents in the near future. More needs to happen from the city: lower costs and implement grants before the full expense is absorbed from the city."
The point of the meetings is to educate the public about why the city desires to raise rates, explained Romero. City staff agreed to meet again in two weeks but did not establish an exact time, he said.
Romero added, "The city offered to devise a plan that would be more fair to citizens but they didn't provide any detail on how they'd change the initial plane (yearly increases).”
Other city officials did not respond for comment by press time.