CALIFORNIA CITY – Funds for city fire equipment and police department vehicles were approved in a special California City Council meeting April 21. The meeting, which was streamed online and allowed online comments, also included a Public Works workshop on water rates and the Tierra Del Sol Golf Course.
Public Works Director Joe Barragan said staff agreed with some of the citizens comments regarding the water rates. Using research by Waterworth – a web-based analytics platform that integrates different data for water and wastewater systems – rates were compared with four surrounding cities.
“If we lowered our water minimums monthly and then lowered the water rate at the same time, we could promote water conservation,” said Barragan. He prepared a chart with monthly base charges based on meter size, based on the comparisons with Rosamond, Ridgecrest, Barstow and Arvin. The rates ranged from $35 to $4,240 in base costs, the majority of base costs for residences would fall between $35 and $70.
Public comments filed online questioned the wisdom of using the Waterworth data in this manner.
“The prior water rate study was worthless,” wrote DJ Twohig. “We informed Council and staff it lacked important cost of service analysis. Council didn’t pay attention then. Now, staff is responding to calls to reduce excess water rates, which cannot be supported with an actual cost of service study. How do we know this? Because the City was not sharing costs of service, in accordance to Prop 218 prior to the previous rate study! The reduction of rates should be with a competent of cost of service study.”
Jim Creighton also questioned the use of the data.
“This item should be pulled until an actual water rate study has been completed by the company currently contracted to do so,” he wrote. “The chart is misleading. It is not a water rate study, only a comparison of nearby communities. Is the usage chart for one residence or the entire community? The disclaimer clearly states that this chart should not be used to make decisions, merely for staff to formulate questions. Pull this item until the rate study has been completed.”
Former Council Member Tami Johnson wrote, “As our city faces challenges that do not always mirror the challenges of the surrounding communities, I believe an actual water rate study needs to be completed before any decisions are made on changes, especially reductions that might strip us of our ability to repair our lines and continue with the establishment of very necessary infrastructure.”
Mayor Chuck McGuire reminded staff and the public that this was a workshop only and no action would be taken on any item.
“I agree a lot that we should have a water rate survey in out hot little hands before we pull the trigger on this,” he said. “I agree with the comments that we’re kind of putting the cart before the horse.”
Additionally, in an effort to reduce Tierra Del Sol operating costs, Barragan said staff is creating a plan to save water. Such as locating and repairing all leaks, minimizing water usage by adjusting watering times and better placement of sprinkler heads.
“The golf course, a month ago, showed 15 water accounts for it,” said Barragan. “We don’t have 15 meters that feed the golf course. We have approximately nine and one’s never been used.”
He said staff also believed there were reading errors due to the different types of meters used at various locations. Some meters display water usage in thousands of gallons, others in increments of 1, 10, or 100 cubic feet.
“So whoever’s getting the meter readings has to know how they’re taking it and they have to make sure they convey that to the person in the city doing the billing,” said Barragan.
Under New Business 1, Council unanimously approved the use of up to $36,000 in California City Fire Department protected reserve funds to put the new fire engine into service. Fire Chief Jeremy Kosick reported the current frontline engine recently suffered a major mechanical failure and that the reserve engine is in desperate need of a tune‐up, brakes, and other small repairs to make it DOT compliant.
Approval was give for the purchase of:
• Fire hose and nozzles: $ 27,671.28
• Hand tools and couplings: $ 3,555.71
• Tools and equipment mounts: $3,800 to $4,000
“I assume that this is your number one priority – to get that engine up and running,” said McGuire.
Kosick said that was the plan and anticipated that the engine would be put into service in less than three weeks once the department was authorized to purchase the requested items, assuming items are in stock and can be rapidly shipped.
“I’m hoping for two weeks, but we’re probably looking, just as a maximum, probably around 30 days, realistically,” said Kosick. “That’s just with the shipping delays because of everything going on with the virus.”
Kosick was also requesting a minimum of $15,000 to repair both the Seagrave reserve fire engine and the American La France frontline engine. He reported that American La France has had numerous mechanical failures and was currently out of service for a broken air conditioning line. The Seagrave has been a reliable workhorse for the department, but age has left it with many uncorrected issues. Kosick added that if the repair of the American la France’s air conditioning line is reasonably low cost under $1,500, it would be recommended to repair it so that it can be used as the reserve while the Seagrave is undergoing maintenance.
The motion to authorize the expenditure failed by a vote of three to two, with Mayor Pro Tem Don Parris and McGuire voting yes.
“Get it (the American La France) fixed, up to $1,000 and I’ll pay for it myself, but my vote for the city money is ‘no’,” said Council Member Ron Smith.
Under the third of new business items, Police Chief Jon Walker submitted a request to purchase 12 new police patrol vehicles, but council only approved purchase of two vehicles. The vote was 4-1 to purchase two new six-cylinder Ford Explorer hybrids with all-wheel drive, McGuire was the dissenting vote, saying he felt the department should be allowed the full 12 vehicles.
“My vote is ‘no,’ they should have gotten all the vehicles they needed,” said McGuire.
Walker and Lt. Jesse Hightower prepared a presentation explaining that the department currently has 14 patrol-ready vehicles for uniformed personnel. The average mileage for the vehicles is 99,183. Given the age of the cars, some with mileage nearing 200,000, the department has spent nearly $117,000 in repairs since 2018.
Two of seven 2014 model vehicles have electrical problems and are in need of repair, but with issues with the remaining fleet they have not been able to take them out of service long enough to make the repairs.
“We are constantly having to jump start those vehicles,” said Walker.
Total cost for purchase of the 12 vehicles would have been $701,931 through a lease purchase program. Because they are hybrids and six-cylinder engines, they would also cost the department less in fuel per month, according to Hightower.
Hightower was also proposing to assign one vehicle to each officer, he said vehicles with only one driver saves money on repairs, reduces mileage and results in the vehicle being maintained properly and on a regular basis. The officer feels responsible for that vehicle and tends to take on an ownership role, taking pride in the vehicle and increasing the service length of the vehicle.
In their presentation, payment for the vehicles would be used with savings from unfilled positions, but Council Member Ron Smith pointed out that those savings were already being used to cover other budget cuts. The recommendation was then made to use police department reserve funds for the purchase, which was also problematic.
“I’m thinking four years down the road and if this comes out of reserves, we have nothing for the PD in reserves and this is all going to be for naught,” said Council Member Ron Smith.
Walker said the long lead time for delivery of vehicles – up to six months – made the full purchase a necessity.
“We’re running on bubblegum and baling wire right now,” said Walker.
With current staffing levels, only two officers are on patrol at a given time, Lessenevitch said.
“We’re not talking about putting 12 vehicles on the street, we’re talking about putting two vehicles on the street at any given moment because that’s all the police officers we have patrolling,” he said.
The purchase of two vehicles outright, at a cost of $53,352, would still leave some $40,000 left in police reserves.
The motion was made by Ron Smith, Lessenevitch seconded the motion
Obviously, I’m going to give them at least the two, but I feel they need a whole lot more,” said Parris.