Cloverdale facing huge water, sewer rate hikes

Cloverdale residents are on the verge of seeing steep jumps in their water and sewer bills, the result of a combination of forces, including the recession and the postponing of previous rate hikes.

With consultants recommending a 67 percent increase in water rates and a 25 percent hike for wastewater rates to take effect in April, the City Council ordered a review from the public works department to help explain why.

"With development in the 2000s, we didn't increase rates as much as we should have. No one frankly was beating the drum to get us to do it," Vice Mayor Carol Russell said last week.

A report prepared by Public Works Director Craig Scott said that a year after the last rate increase in 2005, "the global financial meltdown occurred along with the collapse of the housing bubble."

As a result, he said many homes ended up being vacated due to foreclosure, and there was a dramatic drop in revenue for the utilities as growth stalled.

"These events also brought to a halt new development which was to bring in over $1 million for each utility to help pay for capital projects and pay the debt service on existing debt," he said.

Mayor Joe Palla said while no one is happy about seeing their bills jump, "a lot have said they appreciate that they had such low rates the last seven years. They could have been paying a lot more."

"Basically people have been getting cheap water. We are the cheapest water in the county," he said.

The increases recommended by Reed Group consultants would bring the typical residential combined monthly bill from the current $59 to $91.

That is still lower than most other cities in Sonoma County, including Healdsburg at $137, Santa Rosa at $116, and Petaluma at $96, according to figures cited by the Reed Group.

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