Today, the post office delivered a letter from the Lodi City Council announcing proposed rate hikes for water, wastewater and solid waste for residents of Lodi.
The proposed rate hikes are modest, basically limited to the cost of living increases over the next five years. The announcement consisted of a two-page letter and two pages of rate tables.
Normally, I do not protest these sorts of rate increases; inflation has its way with us.
But this announcement has convinced me to protest the rate increase. The announcement is, to me, insulting. It simply does not provide enough information from which any voter could make a reasonable decision. Specifically:
1. There are no facts justifying even asking for a rate increase. The sole justification is in the third to last paragraph: “The rate increases are being proposed in order to provide funding for system improvements, operations and maintenance, and administrative expenses ... and provide funding to meet inflationary costs of operating the utilities for the next five years.”
This is a conclusion. This is the city council saying, we need the money and do not have to tell you why.
A number of questions were raised in my mind: What system improvements are to be funded? No idea. There is no mention of any pay increase for the regular workers; why not? If everything is going up, isn’t it for them also? And maybe most tricky, the rate hike is to pay for inflationary costs and to also pay for improvements. This implies that productivity is going up. Is it? How much? And if productivity is going up, why doesn’t that cover inflation?
Interestingly, the request expects increased administrative costs. Why are they going up? And what are those costs?
2. The hearing to be held on this is the same day as the vote. That is like having a presidential election without knowing very much about the candidates, going to hear them debate, and then voting as you leave the hall. There is no provision for thinking about what transpires at the hearing. No time to check out claims made at the hearing. Listen and vote.
To make an extreme comparison, it is what Robert Mugabe did in Zimbabwe: Suddenly announce an election to be held in the very short term. He won even though most of the people were against him, because he had all the media and his election machine had been fine-tuned. The opposition did not have time to mount a real opposition campaign.
3. Philosophically, this bothers me. This process, while apparently complying with the letter of the law, does not comply with the spirit of the law. This is not very transparent. Our elected and appointed officials should want us to have all the information necessary to make a reasonable vote on issues such as this. That has not happened here.
I want to know more before I approve raises such as this: What improvements will be funded? Will the workers get raises at least equivalent to the cost-of-living? What are the administrative costs and are they under control?
So I will protest these rate increases.
Dave Wellenbrock is a Lodi resident and semi-retired attorney.