Two Sacramento City Councilmen are leading a campaign against a November ballot measure that would overturn a 9.2 percent utilities rate increase

Councilmen Kevin McCarty and Steve Cohn are heading the recently formed campaign to oppose Measure B, the Utilities Rate Rollback Act of 2010. Opponents also created the No on Measure B committee to raise funds for its efforts.

“We don’t think (Measure B) is a good idea for the city of Sacramento,” McCarty said Tuesday. “The bottom line is, it’s going to blow a big hole in our budget.”

The 9.2 percent utilities rate hike began July 1. Council members approved the increase last year.

Measure B would eliminate that rate hike and also link city utilities rates with the Consumer Price Index. The measure states that if the Consumer Price Index increases, then utilities rates could be increased.

However, the measure would also require the public to vote on utilities rate increases that are higher than the inflation rate.

Craig Powell, chairman of the campaign supporting Measure B, said he was “not surprised” that two incumbent City Councilmen “want to protect their power” to control utilities rates paid by Sacramento citizens.

Meanwhile, the Utilities Department has said the measure could harm the department and the public in numerous ways.

Department spokeswoman Jessica Hess said in July that the passage of Measure B would mean the loss of about $15 million in revenue. The city's website also said 80 full-time positions could disappear.

On top of the $15 million, the department expects to face a $7 million rise in expenses including labor, electricity, fuel and chemicals, Hess said in July. If the measure passes, the department anticipates that it would need to immediately make cuts and changes to its levels of service, Hess said. That’s because the department must prepare a balanced budget for the 2011/2012 fiscal year, which begins July 1, she said.

But Powell claimed that city officials are using scare tactics in their communications about the measure.

The Sacramento city clerk’s office confirmed with The Sacramento Press that the No on Measure B committee had formed. The committee’s first fundraising statement is due Oct. 5, according to the clerk’s office.

Powell said the measure’s supporters will also file a fundraising statement with the city clerk’s office on Oct. 5. The Sacramento Press will post that information when it is available.

Both Powell and McCarty declined to disclose recent fundraising information before the statements are due.

The Campaign for Common Sense Utilities, which backs Measure B, has pointed out that the Sacramento County Grand Jury claimed in a Jan. 6 report that the Utilities Department broke Proposition 218, a state law. 

The law states that money from residents’ utilities bills cannot pay for anything other than the cost of utilities services.

Residents’ utility payments may have been applied to additional programs in the city government, the Grand Jury claimed.

McCarty acknowledged that the city has faced problems with Prop. 218, but said the city is continuing to address those issues. The Prop. 218 problems and Measure B are separate issues, he said.

Read the text of Measure B here

Photo by Brandon Darnell.

Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.