The Fullerton City Council will decide the fate of the 10 percent water franchise fee that has been the source of resident controversy during its April 17 meeting.
Mayor Sharon Quirk-Silva originally planned to put the vote on the agenda during Tuesday’s council meeting, but decided to wait until the results of the April 9 water rate ad hoc committee meeting.
As the city’s water infrastructure is aging and water rates rising, the city’s water franchise fee—implemented in 1968 as “a simple way for the City to account for the costs of the General Fund” for cost not expressed in the water budget—has been an ongoing target of citizen complaints, prompting the city to form an ad hoc committee to discuss the issue.
In November, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association threatened a lawsuit against the City of Fullerton for what they have considered as illegal, saying that the City cannot charge a franchise fee on a publicly-owned utility like Fullerton’s water system.
Councilman Bruce Whitaker said that it was time for the city to stop collecting this “unauthorized” tax and would like some of it to be returned to infrastructure improvements.
“We’ve been paying for something we haven’t been getting for a very long time,” he said.
Quirk-Silva added that the water franchise tax could have been repealed under previous councils. She made references to current Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson and State Assemblyman Chris Norby, former members of the Fullerton City Council.
“There’s a lot of responsibility going around for many, many people and now that we know what we’re doing, I think it’s important we act on it,” she said. “The public needs to know there’s multiple voices that sit on this Council.”
Before the Council put the repeal on the agenda, a few people spoke out against the current state of the water utility and the franchise fee.
Greg Sebourn, a member of the water rate ad hoc committee and a candidate for the June recall election, wanted an explanation about the rate increase and the associated fees of the water utility.
“All these things may be legal as far as a pass-through or be able to charge back rent on city-owned property back to the city…but it’s completely unethical,” he told the Council.
He said that Councilman Don Bankhead and Metropolitan Water District member Jim Blake had the opportunity to explain the water rate increases during the ad hoc committee meetings, but so far have not done so.