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Commission opposes utilities rate rollback measure

A citizen’s group that advises the Sacramento City Council on utilities rates voted to oppose a November ballot measure that would reverse a 9.2 percent rate hike.

Four of the seven members of the Utilities Rate Advisory Commission voted to recommend that the City Council oppose Measure B, the Utilities Rate Rollback Act of 2010. Commissioners Melvin Johnson and Tess Kretschmann were absent from the meeting.

Commissioner Ernest Lehr abstained from the vote after saying he had “many problems with the rate-setting process.” He criticized the Department of Utilities’ budgeting practices.

The City Council voted to increase rates on residents’ utilities bills last year, and the 9.2 percent spike kicked in July 1.

In addition to halting the 9.2 percent rate hike, the measure would establish that rises in the Consumer Price Index could justify rises in utilities rates.

It was unclear at press time if the commission’s recommendation would have an impact on the City Council’s positions.

The City Council does not have the ability to cancel the measure because it is a citizens’ measure. The measure will appear on the November ballot, and voters will decide whether to make the rollback a city law.

“The initiative really scares me,” Commissioner Karen McBride said. “I feel that it’s misleading residents into believing that it’s a very simple, uncomplicated process in running water and wastewater utilities when it’s actually a very complicated process.”

But Craig Powell, the chairman of the Campaign for Common Sense Utilities, took an opposite view. He said that businesses and people on fixed incomes can’t afford to pay the city’s last two utilities rate increases. He also claimed the department’s labor costs are “out of control.”

Read the text of the measure here. 

Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.

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