Supervisors give initial OK to utility fee hikes

Carson City Supervisors gave initial approval Thursday to a series of utility rate hikes, primarily to cover the cost of services dumped on local government by the state.

The increases include electric and gas franchise fees, water and sewer bills, and the cost of using Carson's landfill.

City Finance Director Nick Providenti said after the meeting that the total cost to residents would come to about $85 per household a year.

"We've been asking for these increases for three years," he told the board, "and you said, 'No, use the reserves.' We've used the reserves. We're at the point where it's dire."

He and City Manager Larry Werner told the board that refusing to raise the rates now would result in serious layoffs among police officers, firefighters and other city personnel.

"It's all people, because we don't have anything else," he said, adding that all non-personnel areas have already been cut to the bone.

A dozen or more people showed up to protest the planned increases, including Carol Howell, who said increasing taxes and fees was outrageous when top city employees were getting pay raises.

But Werner and Providenti said her numbers were incorrect -- that no merit or cost-of-living raises have gone to Carson City employees for the past two fiscal years. Providenti said the website where she got those numbers includes a number of things as salary that aren't accurate. He said, for example, that the website counts accrued sick leave as though it is pay and, while he has some 2,000 hours of sick leave on the books, "If I left, I'd only get 240 hours of it."

Laurie Bagwell, a retired state worker and restaurant owner, objected to the water and sewer increases saying, "When you touch water and sewer, you touch everyone."

She said she understands that the city needs more money to balance the budget.

"We're looking for you to assure us that all the rocks were looked at first," she said.

Werner said the city will face substantial increases in costs from programs pushed down to local governments by Gov. Brian Sandoval and the 2011 Legislature. Those programs include housing, rural children's mental health, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted disease prevention, youth parole detention, rural child protective services and pre-sentence investigation costs, among others.

Supervisor John McKenna voted against raising the water and sewer rates to cover the cost of what the state is forcing the locals to pay for.

"I don't think we should encourage what happened by bailing out the state, and I don't know that many seniors can afford the increases," he said.

He was joined by Supervisor Shelly Aldean, but the increases were approved 3-2 with Mayor Bob Crowell, Karen Abowd and Molly Walt supporting the increases.

The measures implementing the increases must all return to the board at its next meeting for final approval before they take effect.

As approved they include:

• A 14 percent increase in the cost of sewer services to help pay for sewer system relocations necessitated by the freeway bypass project - about $3.48 a month to the residential customer.

• A 5 percent increase in water service rates, mostly for debt service on freeway drainage projects -- about $1.14 a month per household.

• A 1 percent increase in the electric utility franchise fee and a half-percent increase in the natural gas fee -- a combined $2.50 a month.

• An increase of $3 per ton to dump at the Carson City landfill.

The board rejected a recommended 1 percent increase in the Right of Way Toll charge for both water and sewer bills, which Providenti said will leave a $175,000-$200,000 hole in the General Fund budget.

In addition, the board delayed implementation of the water and sewer increases by a month until Oct. 1, but Providenti said he didn't know how much that would reduce revenues by.


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