On June 18, the Governing Board of the Goleta Sanitary District held a public meeting on radically changing some of its rates through new Definitions and Revised Rate Methodology for Office Buildings. An example from one Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce member is that the company’s cost rises from $1,727 per year to $34,752 — a 1912 percent increase. This proposed increase has sweeping implications for the local economy in Goleta, as there are approximately 28 office buildings, which lease to dozens of employers, that will see a 30 percent or more increase in their cost of doing business.
According to the sanitary district, the current model of levying user charges has been in place for more than a decade, has been reviewed and vetted by the district’s consulting engineers and complies with the requirements of the Clean Water Act. All users, including businesses and offices, are charged for usage that represents the cost of operations, maintenance and a surcharge for Goleta Sanitary District plant upgrades while balancing the district’s books year over year. But, recently, a recommendation was made to revise the model for charging “Office Suites” to redefined usage and payments.
An ad hoc committee was appointed by the sanitary district and asked to pursue a new methodology that now has resulted in new definitions and revised rates methodology without any consultation with the businesses and companies affected by these draconian increases. While the district announced a workshop on May 31 to discuss these proposed changes, the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 300 businesses in the Goleta Valley, was not made aware of the impending issue and did not participate. Planning any major changes to the cost for our local businesses should be a long-term, well-informed process before letters are sent out making it a done deal.
What’s more, there are questions as to the legality of the process of public notification. Proposition 218 requires that the district provide public notice of a hearing at least 45 days in advance to ensure that affected rate payers have sufficient time to consider the fee and determine whether they consent to it. The notice sent by the district in April 2012 did not inform the building owners of the proposed sewer service charges, sort of akin to taxation without representation. Jeff Bermant of Bermant Development Co. has indicated that he will sue for such as well as this same constitutional mandate requiring that sewer charges are fairly and reasonably distributed among various classes of users.
The good thing is that the Goleta Sanitary District board members saw much of the discrepancies at the June 18 meeting and heard the voices of the customer for the first time. They voted to hold real workshops, lay out a proposal with facts and data for the entire sanitary district and get input from the customers who pay the bills. The Goleta Valley chamber is willing to support the district in the noticing of all upcoming workshops and facilitate better informed recommendations prior to the next Goleta Sanitary District meeting to decide actions that will affect all customers.
— Michael Rattray is board chairman of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce.