Fast and Furious Sierra Madre Residents Will Face Off With City Officials About Farfetched and Inflated Water Bills

City Manager calls for water forum Aug. 9

Part 1 in Series of Articles

By Terry Miller

One thing that is for sure in life is death and taxes, but in Sierra Madre it is the never ending battle of people vs. the water bills, which have been growing with ferocious might ever since the drought began. People are NOT happy.

Here at this newspaper, we’ve been inundated with requests to get to the bottom of why residents’ bills have doubled or tripled in many cases and why the city officials keep blaming the massive increases on “leaks” at residents’ meters.

Rubbish say the residents:  “We can’t all have leaks…”

Residents say the city has made too many excuses why the bills jumped suddenly according to Kim Vollstedt, but offers no real answers or solution.

“They {city of Sierra Madre} have 100 excuses and none really make sense to me.  I’m a single person on a fixed income.  I can’t afford to pay 400.00 every two months for water.  I will have to shut the water OFF to my home if these bills keep up.  And isn’t that a basic human right WATER?  I mean we send money to Africa so people can have fresh clean water…yet at home we are being strangulated by our own city so they can make money to pay for what??  They are slowly fixing our infrastructure and I get we need to pay for that but isn’t that what the 70.00 meter fee is for??  Their billing isn’t fair and they refuse any reset of water allocations.  I was conserving WAY before we were forced to….I have all my water bills to prove it. They are going to average out my neighbors bill for the last 3 cycles and have them pay that…as they said they had a small toilet leak…as I don’t HAVE a leak they will do NOTHING?? How is that fair?”

Another resident said:

“I think we need to get the PUC involved as I still say there is an over charging/guestimates with usage.  I have called City Hall three times now (for three weeks) and still no answers.  Chris was the last person I spoke with and he hasn’t called me back.  My bill is due Monday and I don’t have any answers?? We can’t ALL have leaks.”

One resident on East Highland received a whopping $1,045.66 bill which is due Monday:

City Manager Gabriel Engeland said excess water use charge was increased last May to help incentivize conservation.

On Facebook, residents are letting off steam but again seems to be falling on deaf ears.

Robert K Gjerde  said, “BTW it cost me about $90 to get the $13 of water I used delivered. Something seems out of wack!”

Over the years, our friends over at Sierra Madre Tattler have devoted a huge amount of time and resources into the water woes See: this post from 2015:

Former Mayor Doug Hayes, often called the ‘voice of reason,’ offered his comprehension on the issue upon Facebook recently:

“Your water bill pays for the water that you use, the water that the City has to buy, the employees on the water department, the cost of maintaining, repairing and upgrading the water lines and the electrical usage of the pumps. Your bill also has to cover the cost of the vehicles, tools, etc. that the water department utilizes, plus the road repair that occurs when streets need to be patched.
No water enterprise can be used as a profit-making market to pay for other City needs.
The money you pay for your water bill can only be spent on the needs of the water department and water usage.
The water lines are much older than most of us, therefore these water leaks and main breaks are occurring more frequently and are becoming more of a daily chore for the water department.
It’s not going to correct itself.
The entire City’s water line system is in rough shape and we are not using our “own” water like we were for our first 100 years.
Things have changed dramatically and there’s a cost to bear.
I think we should just be darned happy we have access to another source of water other than our own.
Without the access to this purchased water, this would be a big ghost town, none of our properties would be of any value and we’d end up on the cover of “Time” magazine and labeled “The Little City That Died of Thirst”.
Rather than speculate here and toss around the typical cries and rumors of “scandal”, go to the meeting that the City is having soon. Bring your questions and ask and listen. It’s much more complicated that it appears.
There are strict rules about how water bills are created and there are restrictions for the use of water bill funds.
This isn’t some scheme.
It’s real and our city manager will have real answers.”

We contacted the city manager and he promptly returned our email and offered to meet and discuss the issue, which we will do after the Aug 9 meeting.

July 28, 2017

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