The Angels Camp City Council voted unanimously to raise water and sewer rates annually by 8% over a five-year period during a public hearing on Aug. 8, implementing its first rate increase since 2009.
The decision followed the counting of 41 written protests, a number which failed to meet the 942 water and 848 wastewater protests required under state law to stop the rate adjustment.
Residential and commercial customers can expect the new rate structure, recommended by Bartle Wells and Associates, to be reflected in their next bill on Sept. 20.
Revenues from the rate increase will be used to fund the water utility’s five-year capital improvement plan (CIP), according to City Administrator Melissa Eads. The CIP encompasses nine major projects recommended by Drake Haglan and Associates, totaling over $9.8 million, including the installation of a second pipeline along Murphys Grade road and the replacement of 50-year-old infrastructure.
Other reasons cited for the rate increase were inflation, anticipated population growth and the increased cost of water delivery through the Utica Water and Power Authority (UWPA), a Joint Powers Agreement between the City of Angels and Union Public Utility District in Murphys.
Roughly 20 customers attended the public hearing on Aug. 8 in the Bret Harte High School Multipurpose Room, with seven speakers taking to the podium to protest the rate hikes.
Angels Camp resident Kris Klerk called the proposed rates “astronomical” and “unrealistic.”
“We do want to attract people who want to live here,” Klerk said.
“The projects proposed are based on recommendations from outside engineers and consultants with vested interests in receiving advisory fees,” Angels Camp resident Jack Lynch said in his statement to the council. “The other false factor cited to justify the new projects is the expected city growth based on the 2020 General Plan. This plan projected growth at 1.8% to 2.5%. Our actual growth over the past 10 years was only 0.7% and with the county slightly negative.”
Lynch recommended that the council re-evaluate the CIP and dip into its “excellent reserves” for funding.
Former city council member Gary Hinman, who says he used oversee sewage for the city, also protested the proposed rates, stating that “history has repeated itself.” Hinman told the council that they had fallen into a familiar trap of addressing infrastructural issues “incrementally” and recommended hiring another engineer with no “financial interest” to address the city’s needs.
“They let somebody else make all the decisions, and when it comes to them, it’s yea or nay,” Hinman later told the Enterprise.
Other speakers passionately addressed the effects of increased rates on individuals with low incomes, and some argued that the combined water and sewage discount of $5.36 per billing period allotted to low income customers is not enough.
“This is going to hurt my prospects over five years,” Angels Camp resident David White told the council. “You want to drive around in a Rolls-Royce, but you have a Ford Fiesta. … This is Angels Camp, not a 30,000-person city.”
White later voiced dissatisfaction with the protest-counting process following the public hearing.
“I protest, vigorously, that city counsel and the city attorney counted votes in the corner,” White told the council.
Despite a presentation by Executive Director Debbie Ponte detailing Destination Angels Camp’s efforts to notify customers of the proposed rates and protest process via flyers, public forums and mailed notifications in accordance with Proposition 218, one customer accused the city of not notifying its constituents in a timely manner.
Prior to casting their votes, members of the city council unanimously expressed their belief in the necessity of the rate hikes.
“I’m satisfied that we’ve done what we needed to do, both morally and legally,” Vice Mayor Joseph Oliveira said. He added that the CIP was “restrained” and “brought down to what’s doable in five years.”
“We all live here. We get to pay these rates also,” Council Member Veronica Metildi said. “In this, I felt we have to look at the big picture. I think we did that and prioritized properly for today and tomorrow.”
Mayor Amanda Folendorf commended city staff, engineers and all others involved for their “hard work.”
“I’m thinking everyone wants to have water coming out of their faucet,” Folendorf said.
Following the vote and the adjournment of the meeting, a member of the audience who claimed she was not properly notified yelled, “Pathetic!” repeatedly before approaching Folendorf to speak privately.
According to a study commissioned by the city, the new water and sewage rates for single family residences in Angels Camp compare favorably with those of the Calaveras County Water District (CCWD) and are within the average range of other utility districts in the region.
CCWD, the largest water district in the county, adopted its own five-year rate increase in May of 2018.