Clean water fees to be finalized after mail ballot

Ballots seeking voter input on local water service will be mailed to Del Mar property owners by the end of July. The voting is about whether to approve the clean water service charge currently collected and about whether to allow a future increase.

Property owners will have until Sept. 15 to vote for or against the fees, which help fund the city's state-mandated programs to protect local waterways from pollution.

The mail ballot was given the go-ahead by the Del Mar City Council after an insufficient number of protests to stop the process were received at the majority protest hearing July 7.

A majority of property owners opposed to the fee would have been required to stop the vote. Based on a one-vote-per-parcel calculation, this means that 1,117 protests were needed. No protests were received during the hearing, and 39 written protests were received before the hearing, 2 percent of the required amount.

This allowed the city to proceed with the second phase of voter approval of the clean water service charge - the mail ballot.

Property owners must mail or hand-deliver the official ballot to City Hall, photocopies and faxes will not be counted. If a ballot is lost or damaged, a replacement ballot can be obtained.

The result is tabulated only by the number of ballots returned. Even if only a handful of ballots are returned, if the majority is in favor of the fee, it will pass, if the majority is opposed, it will not. Results will be announced at the Sept. 22 council meeting.

The ballot will include two separate questions for voters to consider.

One will address the clean water fee rates that have been in place since 2004. The other will address the proposed increase of those rates beginning July 1, 2009.

Currently, a typical single-family residence pays $20.98 every two months. The proposed mid-2009 rate is $27.23 every two months for that same single-family residence, or a $6.25 increase every two months.

Thereafter, rates would be adjusted annually for inflation, based on the San Diego County Consumer Price Index, until otherwise amended by a subsequent ordinance.

Rates include a flat monthly service charge combined with a charge based on volume of water consumed. Base rates vary for commercial and restaurant properties and the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

The reason for the retroactive vote on the clean water fee currently being collected at the same time as the proposed increased is that the current clean water service charge rates, adopted by the city council in 2003, came into question after a landmark Supreme Court case in 2006 determined water rates were subject to voter approval under Proposition 218, the state law requiring a majority protest hearing for increases in property-related services. Prop. 218 had not been applied to water, sewer or trash services prior to that ruling.

Del Mar held a majority protest hearing for the 2004-2009 rate schedule in early 2007. A majority protest was not received and the city continued to collect the service charge.

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