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City Council Approves Election Finance Ordinance, Increases Wastewater Rates

The council also passed required maintenance of ground-floor windows in vacant downtown properties

With no public comment or internal discussion, the city council approved the Election Campaign Finance ordinance with a 5-2 vote. This was one of the few agenda items that went straight to a motion during the three-and-a-half hour meeting Monday night, largely because the council had approved each element of the ordinance during .

Among the ordinance’s enforcements, full disclosure must be provided for a campaign donation of any amount.

The council also voted to raise wastewater rates beginning March 1 of this year by five percent and to subsequently raise rates to up to 40 percent over the next five years.

A city staff report recommended that the rates increase to maintain the city’s wastewater utility services. Currently, the South County Regional Wastewater Authority (SCRWA) anticipates a cost of between four and five million dollars in replacement of minor equipment over the next five years. SCRWA also anticipates the replacement of major equipment, with a price tag of up to $25 million, in the next half decade.

Council member Peter Arellano asked whether money from current fees has been put aside for parts replacement, but City Administrator Thomas Haglund said the money saved has not been enough.

“The most recent study [tells] us that to meet obligations, to meet maintenance and repair projects over the next several years, our savings plan isn’t going to meet that cost,” he said.

Several Gilroy residents spoke out against the increase.

“I protest this rate increase,” said Gilroy resident James Marlowe, who also noted that he owns three properties within the city limits. “If one was to extrapolate the rate increase, then within eight years, our current rates will double.”

Haglund said that while the percentage amount is high, the actual dollar amount residents will have to pay each year is fairly mild.

Suzanne Rodriguez, another Gilroy resident who opposed the rate increase, shared her disapproval with the council.

“There isn’t a specific project listed as the reason for bringing the increases,” she said. “This gives me the impression that we’re supposed to write a blank check. Is this money going toward infrastructure, or toward more of the irresponsible and reckless spending of the Santa Clara Water District’s six-figure salaries and perks?”

She asked the council to provide more transparency on how the funds are issued.   

Other highlights of the meeting included:

  • The council failed to pass a motion to approve a tentative map to sub-divide approximately 1.97 acres into 13 residential lots with a 3-3 vote. Councilmember Peter Lunroe-Munoz excused himself from the vote because he lives close on Kern Ave., close to the proposed site.
  • The council voted 7-0 to provide direction to the Downtown Dancing Task Force in crafting an Entertainment Ordinance that would allow dance halls to operate downtown.
  • Another 7-0 vote imposes a registration and maintenance requirement for ground-floor windows in vacant commercial space in the downtown historic district and the downtown expansion district. A $120 registration fee and a $120 renewal fee will be imposed.
  • A new full-time position was created in the Gilroy Police Department. Known as a REACT officer, the officer is tasked with investigating cases of identity theft and educating the public in prevention. The council approved creation of this position with a unanimous vote.
Michelle Fitzsimmons January 24, 2012 at 09:58 PM
This was one of those situations, according to Haglund and others on council, where the city should have been charging more for wastewater all along but because they couldn't foresee future costs, didn't, and now they are trying to catch up in order to keep the wastewater treatment facilities running. Without the replacement and repair of parts, things could pretty much stop operating at SCRWA.
Corinne Speckert January 25, 2012 at 03:12 AM
Thanks for that extra info, Michelle. The city apparently sent out letters to residents informing them of the rate increase, but it sounds like many people were unaware that this was even being considered.

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