WATSONVILLE - Several Watsonville residents spoke against a proposed increase in water, sewer and garbage fees Tuesday, adding their voices to about 50 people who sent in protest letters.
But the protests weren't enough to automatically stop the rate increases.
Late in the evening, the City Council had not decided whether to increase the fees about 8 percent next year and a total of 40 percent for five years to build up funds for maintaining and replacing aging pipes and equipment.
"Our taxes are higher, gas is higher, food is higher, insurance is going up all the time. I really feel it's unfair to raise fees," said Marged McNeely. "I feel you should listen to the public."
Interim Administrative Services Director Mario Maldonado said without an increase the city won't be able to keep up with repairs. Of the city's 177 miles of water pipes, for example, 100 miles are 50 or more years old, he said.
Others agreed the timing for a fee increase was bad given the hard times faced by many in the community. In the senior neighborhoods of Bay Village and Pajaro Village, residents are either just becoming aware of the proposed increases or are confused about how to protest, said senior Rhea DeHart.
"I'm surprised you even got 52 letters for many people didn't understand the procedure," DeHart said. "Eight percent and almost 40 percent or more over five years is a big increase in someone's budget."
Danny Lazzarini said she bought a home in Watsonville two years ago, but garbage services provided by GreenWaste at her former home in La Selva were superior to what she's found in the city. She had weekly curb-side pick up of yard waste, for example, and the contractor offered a low-cost 10-gallon can for households that had little to throw away. In Watsonville, she said, she has to pay for a 25-gallon can, even though her household of two doesn't fill it.
"I'm opposed to this with the current state of services we're receiving," Lazzarini said.
Officials said yard-waste pick up is in the works.
Resident Amy Newell said she was convinced the city needs the money to ensure critical services were kept in good repair. She said even with an increase, the city would still have the lowest rates in the area.
"Percentages are a funny thing. Something that costs $1 a month increases to $2 and it's 100 percent increase but it's still only $1," she said. "We need a budget for those big expensive things that need to be done to keep our sewer and water systems viable."
Senior Jim Bacon also supported the increase.
"Yes, seniors are having a tough time," Bacon said. "I'm having a hard time. But we all have to carry our weight."
Follow Sentinel reporter Donna Jones on Twitter: @DonnaJonesSCS