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Goleta West Sanitary District: Shift of Sewer Service to Goleta Needs Full Public Review

The Goleta West Sanitary District is urging the Goleta City Council to refrain from taking action on the pending proposal to shift sewer service responsibility to the city from Goleta West until the city has held a full and open public discussion on the matter. The sewer-service proposal is scheduled to be discussed and potentially acted on by the City Council at its Tuesday afternoon meeting. The district has been informed that the utility shift proposal is more than 100 pages long and is still being prepared. It has not been released to the public.

Goleta West has provided sewer services and street sweeping to the western portion of the Goleta Valley since 1954. Residential customers are charged $14 per month, which is far less than the fees charged by other local sewer agencies (the adjoining agency charges $34 per month). In addition, Goleta West receives approximately 6 percent of the basic 1 percent property taxes paid by its customers who own property in the city, and over the years has carefully saved that money for major capital projects. As a result of these prudent financial practices, Goleta West has maintained low monthly fees, has not needed to borrow money in more than 15 years, and has gradually saved enough money in its capital reserves to pay for its $20 million share of the upcoming upgrade of the Goleta Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The city of Goleta is now proposing to take over sewer service to properties located in both Goleta West and the city. As part of this proposal, the city has asked that about 75 percent of the Goleta West annual property tax stream be shifted to the city. The city has indicated those taxes would be used for general city purposes. In addition, the city wants 75 percent of Goleta West’s accumulated capital reserve funds to be shifted to the city.

The city’s proposal to take over sewer services and use property taxes and reserves for general purposes will result in a sewer fee increase for city residents currently served by Goleta West. Six months ago, Goleta West obtained an independent study, which found that its sewer fees would rise to $28 per month from $14 per month between 2009 and 2014 if property taxes ceased to be available for capital projects.

Goleta West also believes the city’s proposal will result in the need for the city to borrow money in order to handle future sewer system capital needs. In light of the economic downturn, we have all discovered that borrowing money to handle current needs is risky for both individuals and for governments. Why not pay for these important capital projects with the money that has been paid by Goleta residents and carefully saved by the district over the past 30 years, instead of borrowing?

Goleta West respectfully asks the City Council to conduct a full and open community discussion of this proposal before taking action. The consequences of this decision are too significant to rush into it without adequate public input.

Steve Amerikaner is the Goleta West Sanitary District’s general counsel.


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