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RIALTO — The Rialto City Council on Tuesday voted to end the contentious issue of a whopping rate increase by voting 4-1 for its approval.
The issue, and a related agreement to outsource the city’s water and sewer operations to New Jersey-based American Water Works Co. Inc., have been a boiling point for many residents for over a year.
The council’s action will propel water and sewer rates 114.8 percent by 2016.
Because the city of Rialto hasn’t increased rates for years, many residents recognize that rates need to go up, but think the increase should be spread out over more years.
Only Councilman Joe Baca Jr. opposed the rate increase.
As part of the meeting, the council decided not to schedule a referendum during the Nov. 6 general election on that outsourcing agreement — even though the city was presented with more than enough valid signatures to make that happen.
The petitions, gathered by the Utility Workers Union of America, did not include a copy of the concession agreement, Rialto City Attorney Jimmy Gutierrez said in an interview.
Under a provision of the election code, which Gutierrez said was written to encompass city ordinances, a copy of the ordinance must accompany the petitions
so that people know what they are signing.
In those situations where there are other documents, courts have ruled that they too must be included, he said.
You got to give all the information to the public, Gutierrez said.
With the petitions circulated by the union, a copy of the city council resolution on the concession agreement was the only document included, he said.
How’s the public going to know what it’s signing without a copy of the concession agreement, he said.
When asked how a document spanning hundreds and hundreds of pages, as is the case of the concession agreement, could be part of a petition being passed from one person to the next, Gutierrez said,
yeah, but that’s what the law says.
Later he said that at least a summary of the agreement should have been included along with the petitions.
Contacted late Tuesday night, Utility Workers spokesman Mark Brooks said that the union’s legal team would need to evaluate the city’s position.
The union submitted 6,379 signatures and of those, 1,545 were declared invalid during a certification process conducted by the county Elections Bureau. That left 4,834 valid signatures — well above the amount needed to put the issue before voters.
During the council meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Ed Scott said that work is underway with city staff to modify the concession agreement in a way that will be
to everybody’s liking.
He provided no details.
After the vote, resident Frank Gonzalez said,
I don’t agree with the results (of the Proposition 218 vote) but the citizens had a chance … I would like to work with you, even though I don’t agree with you.
City Council’s vote on the rate increase was delayed to await the results of a Proposition 218 protest vote where a majority of the ratepayers — plus one — must file a written objection to the action.
The final tally for the water rate increase protest vote was 4,345, where 5,701 were required to block it. The sewer rate increases were opposed by 6,883, where 10,387 were needed to block it, Gutierrez said.
Councilman Ed Palmer accused the union’s Prop. 218 campaign of producing many invalid and fraudulent votes.
Thank goodness the vote wasn’t close, because the union would have forced us to physically account for very vote, a process that would have cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said.
Palmer noted that his own signature was forged and sent into the city clerk’s office as a protest vote.
The Utility Workers union has several contract issues with American Water across the country and has opposed the company’s business expansion into Rialto.
Source: Jim Steinberg, The Sun (San Bernardino)