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Water, sewer rate increase deserves a closer look

They say hindsight is 20-20. We wonder what the judgment will be, five, 10 years from now concerning Mayor Jerry Sanders’ plan to pay for needed water and sewer infrastructure improvements citywide with a substantial water and sewer rate hike. At the mayor’s behest, the City Council last week overwhelmingly passed a progressive 35 percent rate increase over the next four years.

First off, we’d like to applaud the approach our strong mayor has taken in overhauling city government during these austere fiscal times. He’s the first mayor, in a long while, who’s had the gumption to tell it like it is. Sanders’ mantra has been that the city needs to take bitter medicine, immediately, to begin to cure its longstanding financial ills, not just pass the buck along to the next administration. That is what has been done so often in the past. That is what has placed the city in the precarious fiscal situation it finds itself in today.

But we can’t help but wonder if this latest infrastructure rate increase is as well - or as thoroughly - considered as it should be.

We cannot help but pose this question: Is this rate increase a public tax being masked as a user fee?

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If it is, we should then be asking ourselves, why are the citizens of San Diego being asking to pay for the mistakes of past city administrations? And why without a public vote?

If it is not, then we should all be slapping the mayor and city councilmembers on the backs and thanking them for doing the right thing. Namely, that is, doing whatever it takes to fix the city’s infrastructure problems, which, for too long, have been delayed or postponed.

We think the city should take to heart the view of Michael Shames, the spokesman for UCAN, a nonprofit consumer watchdog group, who does not render an opinion on whether or not the entire increase is justified. Rather, Shames merely asks, where is the justification by an independent analyst that unequivocally justifies the magnitude of the rate increase as proposed?

Shames points out rate increases by utilities, like SDG&E, typically take weeks, not months, to sort through and quanitify. We agree.

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Like Shames, our considered opinion is that this increase, as passed by the City Council, seems a bit hasty, a bit rushed. But like him, let’s not condemn the size of the rate increase, without carefully analyzing all of its particulars.

We’re not opposed to taking the bitter medicine necessary to begin to cure the city’s fiscal woes. But then again, let’s make sure how sick we are, before we determine just how big a dose we need to take.