Politics

Judge allows petition drive fighting Fresno water rates to move forward

Monday, November 25, 2013

The judge ruled Fresno's City Attorney has a legal duty to prepare a title and summary of the ballot measure to repeal the city's water rate increases. The wording must be completed by Dec. 6. It is a victory for Doug Vagim who is leading the fight to repeal the rate hike.

"Oh we're pleased," Vagim said.

The increase was already approved by the City Council. The average bill went up by about $8 a month and will increase by an average of $24 a month at the end of three years.

The increase is to finance more than $300 million in improvements to the city water system, including a new treatment plant. Fresno City Atrorney Doug Sloan said the judge's ruling does not mean voters will ever get to decide because he thinks such a vote is illegal.

"It's illegal because the initiative process cannot be used to stop the city from performing an essential government function. We have to supply water," Sloan said.

But Vagim disputes the need and the cost for such a massive change in the way the city supplies water. Once the city completes the title and summary for the ballot measure he and his supporters can begin gathering signatures to put the measure before the voters.

"We will hope to build a snowball this winter and we can build this into a momentum that will carry the day and the people's right to vote is held and the people, I'm sure when it's before them will vote to repeal these rates," Vagim said.

However, the city council could vote to appeal the judge's decision and in addition, the City is suing Vagim, in hopes the court will agree the voters do not have the right to decide this issue.

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