A small town in Fresno County has come under fire for its mishandling of a routine water increase.
In 2007, the Parlier City Council approved a water rate increase that never saw the light of day thanks to a simple clerical error.
“One of the staff members inputted the decimal point in the wrong place,” stated Interim City Manager Shun Patlan in an interview with ABC 30.
While businesses across the city are shocked by the sudden 90% increase, city leaders have indicated that customers may even have to back pay their bills for the six years the increase went unknown.
Business owners across the city are worried about the effect the increase will have on their bottom line. ABC 30 interviewed Jose Jiminez, owner of Dari Snak Drive-In in Parlier, who is considering shutting down his business after the unexpected spike in rates.
“Before it’s like 90-94 dollars a month and now we get a new bill about 280 dollars, it’s a lot,” said Jimenez in the video report.
According to the local paper, The Reedley Exponent, one apartment complex within the city saw an 11,000% increase in its monthly bill.
Parlier Parkwood Apartments Manager Diane Jensen was shocked when a bill amounting to $30,000 arrived at her door. Typically, Parkwood pays $1,000 or less per month for the water consumption of its tenants.
Jensen spoke out at the September 4 meeting, concerned not only for her tenants but the business community at large.
“That decision that you made has huge ramifications to the mom and pop businesses who are suddenly getting large water bills that they never budgeted for,” Jensen stated to the council. “You can’t just say, with a vaguely worded letter, ‘Well, we’re sorry. We made a mistake.’ Government has to be transparent, and this doesn’t feel transparent.”
In the vein of transparency, the abrupt increase also brought to light the fact that city officials ran out of money before they could install water meters in every home across the city. It has resulted in a disparity between the rates charged to residents.
According to the Reedley Exponent, resident Alma Beltran contacted the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to inquire about the discrepancy, who informed her that it was against the law. At an August 21 city council meeting, Beltran publicly threatened the council with a class-action lawsuit should the city fail to fix the meter problem.
City leaders stated that they will check with the CPUC and let the public know of the subsequent conversation.
Parlier is a town of less than 15,000 in the middle of Fresno County that is known for having one of California’s highest percentages of Hispanic residents, clocking in at 97.5% of the town’s population. Median income rests at slightly above half of the median income for the State of California.
The citytouts its “low tax rates and low cost utilities” on its site as reasons why it is business friendly. In an effort to stay true on that promise, city leaders have encouraged businesses to come forward and work with them as they will address any concern with the contested water bills.