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Ballot for stormwater causes rumbling

Local homeowners fear proposed fee change will lead to hidden rate hikes

Posted: August 22, 2009 9:01 p.m.
Updated: August 23, 2009 4:55 a.m.

The city’s proposed changes to stormwater fees has some Santa Clarita homeowners feeling swamped with misinformation.
“Our elected officials deceived us,” said Roy Thun, 45, of Valencia.

Thun was among the thousands of Santa Clarita homeowners who have received a mail ballot asking them to approve a change to the way city officials calculate fees for stormwater collection.

He and others said the city touted the fact it would lower fees for 86 percent of homeowners, but did not do enough to inform residents it would also lead to annual rate hikes.

“I felt the city should’ve been more forthright with the citizens,” Thun said. “The city hasn’t explained how our new fees compare with the old fee structure.”

The ballot measure would give the City Council a tool to raise stormwater fees every year based on inflation.

Officials said that would amount to about a $1 increase most years for most residents.

The voting period, open to homeowners within city limits, ends Aug. 25.

City spokeswoman Gail Ortiz said the city never tried to hide anything.

In fact, it had sent out newsletters and other information to voters in the months leading up to the vote.

“I feel like we really did our due diligence here,” she said.

Stormwater fees are used to maintain, improve and replace storm-drainage facilities in Santa Clarita.

They also go toward monitoring illegal dumping and discharging, said Travis Lange, environment services manager for the city of Santa Clarita.

The city’s plans to move to inflation-based rate increases for the stormwater fees put those fees in line with others the city collects, he said.

Lange has spent weeks answering questions on the stormwater fees, after complaints from several residents flooded City Hall.

Typically, Santa Clarita homeowners would expect to pay a stormwater fee of about $24 per year, Lange said.  

Lange said the potential increases associated tied to inflation don’t add up to a lot in real dollars.

For example, 10 percent inflation would translate into a $2.40 increase for the average, he said.

Inflation of 10 percent is rare — the average rate is about 3 percent, which amounts to about $1.

He also said the City Council would be bound to increase of no more than the rate of inflation.

“This doesn’t enable it to raise the fee using any other scale than inflation,” he said. “The City Council couldn’t arbitrarily raise fees.”



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