The following is lengthy and detailed but sheds light on some serious stuff that affects your wallet:
I'm writing to you today to let you know the outcome of a project that we set in motion late last year concerning what we saw as exorbitant Sewer Service Charges on our Property Tax Bills. By way of background, we bought our home in 1999. We were billed the following Sewer Service Charges for the subsequent years we lived on Crest Drive: 2000 - $766.96; 2001 - $766.96; 2002 - $766.96; 2003 - $646.46; 2004 - $1,210.54; 2005 - $1,442.08.
You'll notice there was a substantial increase in 2004 (nearly double the charge for the previous year). When we received our Tax Bill in 2005 I got a little concerned about how high it had become. So I inquired about why our Sewer Service Charges had escalated so dramatically with no corresponding change in the way we used water or the amount we sent to the sewers.
We were informed that the drastic change was the result of a sewer rate increase which had been approved by the City Council. In addition, when we asked why our neighbors across the street were paying less than $200 per year we were told they were in a different sewer service district than we were and they were not subject to the rate increase.
Well, after I had seen the way City Council had tried to pass Props A and C by presenting them as something they decidedly were not, I was very skeptical of the answers I was getting about the Sewer Service Charges. One bit of useful advice I received and acted upon was to install a water sub-meter to measure the actual amount of water we were using inside of our house that eventually found its way into the sewers and, for which, we were obliged to pay a service charge. (In case you aren't aware, the water we use to irrigate our lawns and gardens and fill our swimming pool and spas does not go into the sewer so is not subject to the Sewer Service Charge.)
Prior to installing the sub-meter, like most of you, our Sewer Service Charge was based on the total amount of water we used during the year. To this amount, the Sewer Department applied a factor that they claim results in a representative reduction in the total amount of water in an attempt to reflect the amount that finds its way into the sewer and for which we should pay a Sewer Service Charge. Many of you are currently being billed in the same manner for your sewer access. Those of you who live along Crest and Wotan Drives (and parts west) and north of Melba Drive, are being drastically overcharged through this flawed formula. And to be clear, it is the formula, not the rates that are causing the problem!
To illustrate, please refer to the amounts of our Sewer Service Charges for previous years that I listed above. Then consider that after installing an $850 sub-meter, our Sewer Service Charge for 2006 dropped to $228.82 based on our ACTUAL output to the sewer system. You can see from our example that the City of Encinitas has, in effect, been collecting an ILLEGAL tax from a group of the City's residents and has been DISCRIMINATING against those who live in two of the City's three sewer districts while charging substantially lower Sewer Service Charges in the remaining district.
And the only relief the City has offered is to inform us that we can install a sub-meter at our own expense (which is pretty substantial -- $850 in our case). In fact, we are all free to install sub-meters to preserve us from the damaging effects of this illegal tax. But we believe the City is counting on the fact that the substantial expense of installing a sub-meter will deter the majority of residents from considering installing one. And so, they will go on charging and collecting this unfair, illegal and discriminatory tax unless we do something to stop them.
I hope you are as outraged as we are at what you have just learned! The entirety of Cardiff-by-the-Sea is affected by this unfair and discriminatory rate formula as is a great deal of the rest of Encinitas so you have plenty of company. I have to do some more research, but if this can be shown to be as I see it to be -- an illegal tax -- then perhaps we could receive some help from the Howard Jarvis Homeowners Association. I will be looking into this further.
But in the meantime, there is something we can all do together that will have a more immediate effect...
Keeping in mind that the current City Council members approved this flawed rate formula and refuse to listen to complaints that it is flawed and considering that they remain unmotivated to do anything about it, I propose we elect fresh faces to replace those who are coming up for re-election. I would make sure the new candidates understand the scope and severity of this problem and determine where they stand on the matter before you place your vote next month.
We should look for a fair-minded person who would not tolerate such a flagrant abuse of government power if it was within her ability to do something about it. I hope you will educate yourselves about the candidates before you place your votes in November. The Union-Tribune has endorsed Dan Dalager and a friend of his named Long under the curious, confusing and misleading assessment that Encinitas is "relatively free of financial problems and political scandals". I guess if you compare the Cities of Encinitas and San Diego, you could kind of come to that conclusion. But the preponderance of the local news reporting (even by the Union Tribune itself) does a poor job of leading a rational mind to the same result.
So, this is the bottom line... If you live in one of the two sewer districts that was subject to a rate increase that was approved in 2004, then you are probably paying as much as 6 or 7 times what you should be paying for Sewer Service Charges. I hope you will organize an effort to fix the City Council's oversight in as expedient a manner as possible and through all channels that are open to you.
see also MORE FEES FOR YOU
and the now classic FINANCIAL FLIM FLAM