City ‘cleans up’ utilities code after 20 years
City officials are changing the city code on utility service billing which may result in lower rates for some residents. Some provisions of the code have not been touched in 20 years and city officials say the old language did not meet state health and safety codes.
Shelle Smallwood, Utilities Department billing manager, told members of the city’s Law and Legislation committee Tuesday that the changes reflect updates that are consistent with current city practices and with the state code.
Other than a potential rate reduction for a few customers, there does not appear to be any financial impact from the changes in the city code for other customers or for the city.
In addition to clarifying terms and specifying updated billing operations, the revised language will repeal a section of the city code that imposes an automatic multiplier on the water rate for service outside the city.
A multiplier is an additional cost added to the normal rate of service for customers who receive services outside the scope of the regular rate – such as properties that are outside city limits.
According to city attorneys, an automatic multiplier is inconsistent with Proposition 218, which requires utility rates to be based on cost of service.
“The city has sometimes provided service for customers with properties that are not within city limits, but are adjacent to the city limits,” Jessica Hess, Utilities Department spokeswoman, said Tuesday. “It was a historical practice of the department to charge a multiplier on the service to those properties.”
Hess said approximately 1,500 customers outside the city limits were affected – but that practice was changed nearly 10 years ago.
“We reviewed the practice and saw there wasn’t a need to charge the multiplier,” Hess said. “If there are any of those customers who have not yet had the multiplier removed, it will now be removed and their rate will go down.”
Hess said that very few – if any – of those affected customers still have multipliers on their rate.
“The code changes include the reduction of some late fees,” Hess said, “but that won’t have any (budget) impact because we don’t assume late fees when we draw up the budget. We assume everyone will pay their bill on time.”
Another section of the code that city attorneys said is inconsistent with Prop. 218 is a section requiring the garbage collection rate to include a charge for the collection and disposal of illegal dumping.
Smallwood told committee members Tuesday that code changes related to solid waste disposal will be addressed at a later date, when the department makes additional recommendations to the City Council.
The Utilities Billing Department policy was changed internally years ago to meet state code requirements, but the language in the city code was never reviewed, Hess said.
“The truth is, we have been doing these things for the past 15 years,” Hess said. “We are just making the city code language match up (to the state code).”
“This is all pretty self-explanatory,” Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy said Tuesday of the recommended changes. “It’s just bringing everything current. It just cleans things up the way they should be.”
The Law and Legislation Committee’s recommendation will go to the City Council for consideration on Nov. 22. Formal adoption of the changes could happen as soon as Nov. 29.
Melissa Corker is a Staff Reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.