by Dave Scholl, Publisher, Dixon’s Independent Voice
The City of Dixon has illegally collected an estimated $3 Million dollars from Dixon sewer customers over the past 6 years – and is now attempting to impose sewer rates that will also illegally collect $1.2 Million more per year – in violation of Dixon’s Measure L Ordinance which requires a vote of the people for any such increases. Mayor and City Manager met behind closed the morning of February 14 as a the potential crisis came to light.
Dixon’s Independent Voice (DIV) has been reviewing the recent history of Sewer Rate increases in Dixon and the process for an initiative to over-turn the City Council’s February 11 vote to double sewer.
During the investigation DIV staff realized the Measure L ordinance specifically requires ANY change in sewer rates to be approved by vote of the people, and NOT by an action by the City Council – whether a Resolution or an Ordinance.
That Measure was put on the ballot by an initiative and adopted by over 60% of the vote in the 2006 election.
Section IV of Measure L specifically states, “This measure may not be amended except upon voter approval.”
Measure L also repealed an attempt by the Council to triple rates from $15.85 per month to approximately $45 per month.
Without regards to the clear provisions of Measure L, in late 2008 the Council violated the Ordinance with a new Ordinance 08-021 to increase rates to present levels for what was to a limited period of 3 years. Sewer rates were to be based on water usage during winter months. Final average rate of 10ccf per month was to cost $28. Actual usage declined to an average of 8ccf resulting in the $23.99 average bill of today – about $8 an month for every sewer customer..
Based on an estimated 5,500 sewer service addresses the increase produced about $44,000 per month – or $528,000 per year. During three years, about $1,600,000 was collected by the city.
The 2008 increase was to be for a limited time of three years, with funds raised to be used repairs that had been delayed, and to be set aside for upgrades in the “Headworks” at the city’s sewer plant.
But the City Council failed to reduce the rates after three years as promised. The City has continued to collect sewer fees at that same increased rate.
For a six year period, the illegally imposed sewer rates brought over $3 Million to city coffers
To worsen the situation, in November 2013 the council agreed to moving ahead on funding and constructing an “Activated Sludge” system for the sewer system
Rather than submitting the fee increase to an election as required by the Measure L City Ordinance, the city instituted a “Proposition 218” process. Under that process written protests from owners or tenants of a majority of parcels must be submitted to stop the rate increase within 45 days of notification. Any parcel for which a written protest is not submitted is considered a Yes vote in favor of the rate increase.
Because of flaws in the city’s notices – which stated only property owners, and not including tenants – in December the process had to restart the 45 day notification period.
At the City Council meeting on February 11, 2014 the council declared the 2101 written protests submitted was not sufficient to stop the fee increases.
During the Public Hearing prior to passing that rate increase, members of the public had challenged the Council to submit the rate hike to a vote of the people. The Council ignored that plea.
The Council then passed an Ordinance to allow the Council to change fees in the future by Resolution, instead of Ordinance. The council then immediately passed an Ordinance imposing the doubling of sewer fees.
The rate hike was supported by Mayor Batchelor and Councilmembers Steve Bird, Jerry Castenon, and Dane Besneatte. Vice-Mayor Thom Bogue opposed the rate hike.
The Council thus again illegally ignored and violated the requirement of a vote of the people to raise those fees.
Two days later, on February 13, 2014, The Dixon Chapter of the Solano County Taxpayers Association (DC-SCTA) sent an email to the City Attorney and City Clerk pointing out both the 2008 increase and the latest one are illegal due to the clear mandate for a vote of the people in the citizens’ Measure L ordinance.
City Manger Jim Lindley and Mayor Jack Batchelor meet behind closed doors at City Hall the following morning – Friday, February 14, 2014. The subject matter of the meeting is not yet known, but may be presumed to be about the illegal fees challenge.
The DC-SCTA is now demanding the City immediately cease and desist collecting the sewer fees illegally imposed in 2008 – and further cease and desist imposing the recently adopted doubling of those fees.
It is not clear at this time if the City may be legally require to rebate the $3 Million in illegally collected fees. Residents who paid the illegally fees can file a claim against the City – but may be limited to recovering only a few months of the overcharges.
Meanwhile, the City cannot legally continue collecting the overcharges.