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City landscape and lighting rates head in one direction…up

Sanitation fees are on the rise and so are water rates. Now, another Claremont utility is joining in with the recent price increases.

With a 4-1 vote, the Claremont City Council approved a 1.28 percent, or $2.03, increase associated with the county’s Landscape and Lighting District (LLD). This increase comes on the heel of a similarly priced increase in June 2012.

The LLD program, first approved by Claremont voters in 1990, involves the maintenance of landscaping and street light improvements by the city and private contractors. Maintenance projects and other developments are paid through a tax levied from citizens, the price varying depending on the size of a resident’s property. The method of calculating increases, also approved by voters, is based on the Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County Consumer Price Index (CPI) from March to March of each year.

Claremont voters approved continuing the LLD in 1997. Every year since then the city has conducted a routine process for levying fees, including hiring an outside agency to conduct an Engineer’s Report and determine rising costs. Historically, the fees rise every year.

Currently, there is $2.75 million in estimated landscape and lighting needs, a $96,023 rise from last year due primarily to the rising cost of other utilities, officials say.

“Mostly due to water increases,” Management Analyst Cari Sneed explained further.

A majority of that money—an estimated $1.2 million—will be used for maintaining the city’s 21 public parks, an $18,151 rise from the current year partially due to an increase in water costs, according to Ms. Sneed. She noted that the city has installed water-wise irrigation to about half of the cities parks, and plans to continue expanding this program further.

Park maintenance plans for 2013-2014 include upkeep of the grass, irrigation and fencing, weed abatement, graffiti removal and vandalism repair, pest control and janitorial services. The rest will be used for street repairs and lighting as well as tree maintenance, according to Ms. Sneed.

LLD fees collected for 2013-2014 will cover 85 percent, or $2.3 million, of those needs. The council approved kicking in a further $406,000 of unassigned general fund money to account for the rest of the LLD budget.

“Because the LLD budget assumes a 2 percent CPI increase, an additional appropriation was needed,” Ms. Sneed said.

Like other utility rate increases, the consistent rise in LLD costs has been a source of contention for residents and council members, particularly Councilmember Corey Calaycay, who said it was his disagreement with the LLD issue that drew him to get involved in city government 23 years ago.

“These are the little things that will collectively impact people,” Mr. Calaycay had vocalized when the council approved a previous 2 percent increase to LLD fees in June 2012. “When it was [originally] implemented it was less than $100. In 1992 it was $100. By 2002 it was $117 and now 10 years later already $157. In another 10 years at the rate it’s going be $200 a unit. It is increasing dramatically.”

Though a sunset clause, or expiration date, on the charge was mentioned in the initial LLD discussion in 1989, “ultimately, it was not implemented,” according to City Attorney Sonia Carvalho.

A sunset was never established, but Mr. Calaycay has noted that a council discussion on a sunset clause had been promised for June of 1995. That discussion never took place.

Ms. Sneed affirmed that steps have been taken at the department level to combat rising LLD costs. This year’s budget was partially offset by a decrease in contract services as well as the installation of water-wise irrigation systems. However, at this point further discussions on LLD costs and a potential sunset clause have not been brought forward.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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