The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

May 25, 2010
Group seeking utility-rate rollback turns in signatures

The push to place an initiative on the November ballot that would reverse an upcoming hike in city of Sacramento utility rates is moving forward.

The campaign said it has filed more than 8,600 signatures with the Sacramento city clerk from city voters who support placing the initiative on the ballot.

Those signatures are now in the hands of county elections officials, who will do a random sample to see whether supporters collected enough signatures from registered city voters to place the initiative on the ballot. At least 5,420 valid signatures must be gathered.

County elections officials have until July 2 to validate the signatures. If enough signatures are valid, the Sacramento City Council must place the initiative on the city ballot.

If voters approve the initiative, the 9.2 percent utility rate increase for city residents set to take effect July 1 would be reversed and utility rates would be frozen for another year.

In the future, the council could raise utility rates only to cover inflation-related costs. Any rate hikes above the rate of inflation would require voter approval.

In a press release announcing the filing of the signatures, the initiative campaign said the measure would give "the people of Sacramento some measure of control over, and protection from, their dysfunctional city utilities department." Utility rates have far outpaced the rate of inflation in recent years, the statement said.

Jessica Hess, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Utilities, said a rollback of the rate increase and a one-year freeze for rates would result in a $20 million hit to the department's water, sewer and solid waste funds. City staff are investigating what impact that would have on staffing and service levels.

-- Ryan Lillis


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