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City Council approves new water rates

By: Steve Archer, Reporter
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After dozens of meetings, a lawsuit and a multi-million dollar settlement during the course of the last year, the Lincoln City Council Tuesday night unanimously approved new water rates.

City Council voted on the ordinance establishing new water rates after holding a public hearing and receiving 22 protest letters. The new rates go into effect Oct. 1.

No members of the L.I.F.T. group, or unified to lifting Lincoln to new heights through Integrity, Financial responsibility and total Transparency, were present at Tuesday’s hearing. The L.I.F.T. group, a staunch critic of the city’s management of the water system, successfully sued the city over the issue.

The city agreed to $1.4 million in water rate refunds to residential water customers in a mediated settlement to the lawsuit filed by Jerry Jackson and Chuck Schmidt, both members of the L.I.F.T Group. Jackson and Schmidt filed the lawsuit April 25, 2017, after filing a claim against Lincoln that was rejected by the city. An additional $1.6 million in water rate refunds for commercial rate-payers and multi-family residences was approved by the council Nov. 6, 2017.

The new rates, crafted in part by L.I.F.T. member Ted Jones along with city staff, include a fixed monthly service charge of $32.89 and a volumetric charge of $2.37 per 1,000 gallons for customers with a three-quarter-inch meter. The rates will stay fixed for five years or until the next rate study. The council also added an amendment to the ordinance prohibiting tenants from being added as customers and putting the responsibility to pay water bills on landlords.

Eight Lincoln residents spoke out against the new water rates.

Roy Gros, a Lincoln resident since 2000, was critical of the city’s handling of water bills, several of which he brought to the meeting.

“Between 2016 and 2018, the city was not consistent with the base rate charged,” Gros said. “You don’t deserve a rate increase.”

Susan Clark said she moved to Lincoln two years ago from Westminster in Orange County where her water came from wells and the Colorado River.

“Our water bills were lower in Southern California,” Clark said. “The City Council should do a better job managing rates.”

Lincoln’s Support Services director Steve Ambrose said the new rate structure will result in minor cost increases for water customers with low monthly water delivery.

City Councilman Gabriel Hydrick was optimistic about the new water rates.

“I think we find ourselves in a good spot,” Hydrick said. “It was a bumpy, turbulent ride getting here.”

City Councilman Peter Gilbert gave some history on Lincoln’s water rates.

“In 2012, our fixed rate from the Placer County Water Agency (PCWA) was $50,000 per year for all the water we could use,” Gilbert said. “PG&E owns the water rights and (in 2013) raised the cost to PCWA to $2 million per year. That’s one of the reasons we had to raise rates in the past.”

Lawsuit

The Lincoln City Council voted unanimously to hire the law firm of Best, Best and Krieger to defend the city in a lawsuit filed by Albert Scheiber, a farmer and rural Lincoln resident. According to a staff report by city attorney Kristine Mollenkopf, the estimated litigation budget is $300,000 plus expenses, to be paid out of the city’s water fund

The lawsuit was filed June 26.

According to Mollenkopf’s report, the city is being sued by Scheiber over six new wells proposed for Village 5. Scheiber and his farm are within the proposed boundaries for the Village 5 development, which is being developed by Richland Communities. The proposed area for Village 5 has not yet been annexed into the city limits and the proposed annexation is subject to approval by the Placer County Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO).

Lincoln resident Lena Labosky was skeptical of the city’s need to hire Best, Best and Krieger.

“It seems simple,” Labosky said. “Mr. Scheiber needs water for his farm and Richland is drilling six wells. I don’t know why we need such highfalutin attorneys for such a simple case.”

Gilbert said the firm was needed to meet certain filing deadlines.