Rainbow resident Cari Dale, who professionally is the City of Oceanside’s water utilities director, was part of a panel at the Association of California Water Agencies conference Dec. 3-5 in San Diego.
Dale took part in the Dec. 4 presentation “The Pros and Cons of Multi-Year Rates” which was moderated by San Francisco Public Utilities Commission assistant general manager and chief financial officer Todd Rydstrom. The panel also included City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation assistant chief financial officer Lisa Mowery and Carollo Engineers group vice president Robb Grantham.
Dale has been with the City of Oceanside for 2 1/2 years and was previously with the City of Carlsbad. The City of Oceanside utilized single-year rate increases before Dale joined the water department in 2010 and had such inconsistent increases as 1 percent, 30 percent, and 16 percent. “My first action was to put forward a double rate increase,” Dale said.
In 2011, the City of Oceanside had a double rate increase where rates were raised twice. In 2012, the city implemented a single rate increase.
Dale noted that either single-year or multi-year increases may be preferable depending on the situation. “I have reasons for both,” she said.
The advantage of single-year increases is most often the acceptance of those voting for the rates. “Politicians just don’t want to do large increases,” Dale said. “You have to kind of feel out what is palatable for them.”
Multi-year increases spread a projected cost increase, including bond repayment for past capital improvements and major maintenance, over a longer period of time. Dale noted that the City of Oceanside had stopped budgeting for infrastructure in 2008, before Dale joined the water department. “One of my projects was getting the infrastructure funding jump-started again,” she said.
Oceanside’s capital improvement plan has a project replacement value of $763 million, and Dale noted that an equivalent needs figure of approximately three-quarters of a billion dollars often has more of an impact on elected officials. “It’s okay to use bad words like the ‘B’ word, or billion,” she said.
Dale noted that facilities are often ignored until they need repair or replacement. “A lot of times when we’re doing our jobs the politicians don’t hear about us, the citizens don’t complain about us,” she said. “The things you don’t see, people take for granted.”
Dale thus noted that public relations are essential to support for rate increases to replace unseen facilities without immediate problems. “When we do something good for infrastructure we do want to get the press involved and make sure they understand what the ratepayers are paying for,” she said.
In Oceanside’s case, the public was invited to provide input to the capital improvements list. “We wanted to make sure we were spending our money where it needed to be spent,” Dale said.
Dale noted that the voting board of a city water department is the city council which is also responsible for public safety, recreation, and other matters. “Infrastructure kind of takes a back seat,” she said. “It’s one of the first things to get cut.”
Dale herself lives in the Rainbow Municipal Water District, whose budget agendas focus primarily on water and sanitation needs and whose agendas at other meetings are often highlighted by infrastructure projects. “I think it’s difficult for cities more so than a district,” she said.