At their April 6 meeting, Monte Vista City Council introduced Ordinance 879 for the first reading. The second reading and final passage should come at this Thursday’s Council Meeting. Ordinance 879 repeals one of the Adjustments portions of the Utilities codes, which reads as follows:
“(a) The city council has the power to and may adjust, upon recommendation of the city manager and/or the public works director, connections or service charges of any water user if and when, in the opinion of the city council, the charges are inequitable or unreasonable or work a hardship on the water user. The adjusted charges are to be based upon the approximate amount of water used and the expense of the necessary facilities for carrying the water to the premises of the consumer.
(b) Any person deeming his or her rates or charges unfair or excessive has the right of hearing, on reasonable notice, before the city council.”
This ordinance would eliminate the ability of city citizens to approach council and request adjustments to their water bills and fees. The ordinance does not specify that council has to approve these adjustments and council does not have a specific range or time period that they are required to consider in making adjustments. Additionally, as the council packet from the April 6 meeting displayed, someone requesting adjustments cannot simply come before council stating that they believe their utilities to be unfair, they have to complete a thorough request showing their water usage and charges, and explain why these charges are a hardship for them. Removing their ability to appeal to their elected officials in times of financial hardship seems disconnected from the realities that many Monte Vista citizens live with every day. Additionally, although water in the city is a public utility and not run by a private company, removing the opportunity to request a temporary adjustment in rates to accommodate those dealing with financial hardships is also strikingly unlike other private, for-profit utility companies who do offer income-based adjustments and rate plans for heating bills, for example, or those who qualify at least have access to apply for programs to reduce or pay portions of their heating bill.
The city does have a clear, valid interest in keeping the utility billing system as efficient as possible. Local municipalities, including ours, are dealing with very costly changes in regulations for wastewater processing, on top of already having to analyze and replace large portions of the water system’s infrastructure to maintain the city’s safe drinking water and flow of water and sewer systems, all with minimal, if any, help from the state or federal government. The current utility system, even with recent fee increases, is not likely to pay for itself or cover the necessary repairs. However, repealing the portion of the code that gives those in the most desperate need of assistance a possible alternative to having their water shut off, or having to choose between water and other necessary expenses, does not really affect the city’s efforts to combat these issues. In the past few months, very few citizens have used this tool, and a citizen doing so would acknowledge that their personal lives and finances will become a matter of public record. If they are willing to go this length for a chance of financial relief, council should be willing to hear them and consider their cases. City council members are elected to hear the will of the people here and have largely done a good job of improving the city and looking at creative solutions for difficult problems over the last few years. Council should continue this policy and not cut off citizens asking for help.