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Lighting, Sewer Fee Increases?
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In a marathon three-plus hour meeting on Monday night, July 15, members of the Oakdale City Council attempted to resolve only two issues, both of which would have a financial impact to citizens.

An agenda item regarding the levy and assessments to the landscape and lighting maintenance districts (LLMD) saw a host of speakers questioning the formulas used and justification for many of the expenses.

At its last meeting, the council accepted a report from Special District Services for the Vineyard, Burchell Hill, and Bridle Ridge development LLMDs raising the property assessments for those homeowners.

The city administers four LLMDs on behalf of its residents.

According to Finance Director Albert Avila, the increases proposed were at or near the maximum allowed so that the districts could build needed reserves and funds for proposed capital projects.

Burchell Hill resident Linda Johanson led off the public comment wanting to know what the breakdown was for the administrative fees. She went on to voice her concern that she had been attempting to get the breakdown from the finance department for several years without satisfaction.

Johanson pointed out several errors she felt were in the report and questioned why the consumer price index of 2.46 percent for the San Francisco Bay Area, rather than one more local, was used for the fee hike. She also noted that figures were raised at three percent and not 2.46.

Other concerns consisted of increases in staff time billed when there had been no increase in hiring of city staff.

Johanson said she was protesting the report and asked the council not to accept it due to the perceived errors.

Other speakers asked questions about the report that city staff did not have answers for.

During the discussion, Councilman Mike Brennan voiced his frustration at the errors that were brought up.

“It seems we’re always thousands of dollars off,” Brennan barked. “Why are we paying people who can’t get things right?”

Brennan continued that the city had ended employment of a “regime” of people who couldn’t do things properly over the past couple of years.

“This goes back to one person all the time,” Brennan said, pointing a finger at Avila. “Finance. We have citizens doing our staff’s jobs. If they can’t do it correctly, we should go out and find someone who can.”

City Manager Bryan Whitemyer stated that the LLMDs had no effect on the city general fund and added that they shouldn’t “nit pick” minor amounts that may be a couple thousand off when dealing with hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We’re half the organization we used to be,” Whitemyer said.

Councilman Farrell Jackson agreed that there were questions asked that the city didn’t have answers to and said that if there were mistakes on one LLMD report, there may be others.

The council moved to postpone the item until its next meeting where Whitemyer and Avila could meet with the concerned citizens and review the figures in the report.

“We will get together to address those concerns,” said Whitemyer. “At this point we don’t know if there are inaccuracies to note.”

In its second matter, the council discussed various formulas to be used for a much needed rate hike for its wastewater services.

Last year the city failed to make its first $840,000 payment on its $13.1 million loan.

According to the presentation, the city’s rate structure was not providing sufficient revenue and rates were not applied properly.

In addition to not making the loan payment, approximately $10 million is needed for capital projects, including $3.4 million for the Greger and Valley View water tanks.

After reviewing five different options, the council elected to pursue a billing plan that would give residents a fixed price with the average user going from $40 in January 2014 to $61.25 after five years.

Commercial and industrial users would have a similar fixed plan but also a volume charge.

The city is expected to hold hearings on the increase in late September or early October.

“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to increase rates,” Whitemyer said after the meeting. “However the formula adopted is a fair and equitable plan that helps us pay our debt.”