During a recent Santa Maria City Council meeting the need for an increase in water and wastewater rates was discussed. As part of the rate increase hearing, the council was provided with a “Regional Comparison – water/sewer Combined” chart prepared by the utilities staff to demonstrate that the new rates would be lower than many other jurisdictions.
When looking at the chart the viewer was led to believe the new rates proposed for Santa Maria were considerably lower than those of Lompoc.
This is false.
The city of Lompoc provides not only water/wastewater service, but also provides solid-waste pick-up, operates a landfill, and serves as the electric utility.
I don’t believe any other city in the county or those shown on the chart provides the same level of service.
I am familiar with the way these charts have been prepared in Lompoc in the past; when preparing such a chart, either the city staff or their consultant will contact the other jurisdictions to acquire current information.
When I spoke with Lompoc’s utility director, he said he “reached out to the Santa Maria utility director on Oct. 19 after reading the newspaper article with the comparison graph to get clarification of how Santa Maria arrived at the amount for Lompoc.
“At the time of writing this article, there has been no response from the Santa Maria utility director.”
He also said, “I contacted the City Manager’s office to get a question to the Utilities Department as I had my staff reach out to the Utilities Department directly and my staff had not gotten a response by the end of the day Thursday (Oct. 19).”
So, it appears the Lompoc City staff are looking into the matter.
When I saw that Santa Maria was reporting our water/sewer rate at $256 a month, I quickly looked at my billing history to find out how our rates had gotten so high.
The last time wastewater rates were increased was in 2017; they have been $46.40 a month since that increase.
The domestic water rates include a $36.06 meter charge plus $4.30 for each unit (748 gallons) of water used; our total water bill for a single-family residence last month using nine units of water was $76.03.
And our family’s combined total for both water and wastewater last month totaled $122.43, which is about average.
I think it’s disingenuous for the city staff in Santa Maria to misrepresent the water/wastewater rates in Lompoc as a means of assuring their City Council and anyone in the public that the proposed increases are substantially lower than those in a nearby city.
The fact is, my total bill every month last year for water, wastewater, solid waste pickup and electricity was lower than what Santa Maria was reporting for what they currently charge for water/wastewater as shown on their chart.
If the correct rate were displayed on the chart, it would have shown that Lompoc rates are well below most other jurisdictions and certainly less than Santa Maria, even before the rate increase.
Of course, if I could identify this error, how many others are there on the chart?
I contacted Lompoc Mayor Jennele Osborne, who said, “As an elected official, building trust with the community and being transparent about the cost of services is very important.
“It is disappointing when a sister city fails to contact us prior to publicly stating what they believe our rates to be and then fails to respond when we reach out to understand how these costs were assessed.
“Now the city of Lompoc must work twice as hard to correct the inaccuracies stated by an outside entity and repair the trust, we in Lompoc work so diligently to ensure with our residents.”
The right thing to do here is for the Santa Maria utility director to publicly correct their mistake at the next regularly scheduled City Council meeting.