Fresno water rates dispute moves into court
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The city council raised rates for Fresno water users last month. The city wants to sell more than $400 million in bonds to finance a new water treatment plant and other improvements. According to the city the average bill of $24 a month would raise about $8 a month this year. But double to around $48 in three years.
A group called Citizens for Lower Water Rates, led by former Fresno County Supervisor Doug Vagim, challenged the increase and filed papers with the city clerk to circulate petitions to put it to a vote of the people. Vagim believes state law requires the city attorney to draw up the petition language, so it can be circulated to the public.
But the city has refused and fired back suing Vagim with the argument voters can't overturn the rate hike because providing water is an essential city service voters can't challenge. In Fresno County Superior Court Tuesday. Vagims Attorney, Charles Bell, told the judge opponents simply want the green light to start the petition drive.
"We're seeking simply the authority to go out on the street," Bell said.
The argument is they need to get the petition drive going soon in order to get the measure on the June ballot. They need to get about 5,000 signatures. While the city disagrees with the right to petition the matter, they argue that if the judge allows the petition drive, it doesn't have to start until March.
Vagim said that's not enough time to get the signatures, get the petitions certified and deal with any challenges. Vagim argues the city is trying to keep the matter, which he has named Measure W from making it to the polls.
"It's a stall tactic. There's been an obstructionist attitude by the city all along. "Vagim said.
Vagim and his supporters are hoping the judge will make a quick decision. But Judge Bruce Smith indicated he's got a lot of information to go through and he indicated he will probably need more information and more time to study election law and make a decision.
fresno, fresno county, politics, gene haagenson
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