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Sewer vote raises questions 

Hundreds of Los Osos property owners have already returned their ballots on the town's controversial sewer assessment, while hundreds of others have flooded county offices with questions and concerns, the SLO County Board of Supervisors was told Sept. 11.

"The ballots are coming in fast and furious," said Vicki Shelby of the county clerk's office.

Around 700 ballots have been turned in so far, out of 8,584 ballots mailed to property owners last month, supervisors were told.

Many of the questions concerned multiple ballots going out to the same parcel, or property owners not receiving a ballot at all, according to John Diodati of the county public works department, who said he has "fielded 200 phone calls" in addition to the calls made to the county auditor's and county clerk's offices.

Under the provisions of Proposition 218, the so-called "right to vote on taxes" measure, property owners are being asked whether or not they agree to an assessment on their property to pay for a still-undefined sewage collection and treatment system.

"This is not usual voting. Each vote is weighted, so if someone is a half-owner, they have half a vote. It's not one ballot, one vote. The sum of all ballots for a parcel equals the total proposed assessment for that parcel," Diodati explained.

But because the county assessor's property ownership records are "a snapshot in time," the information they provide may not be current, he said. Duplicate ballots will be issued for new owners who request them by calling 781-5080, while any ballots sent to former owners or deceased owners won't be counted, he assured the meeting.

Complaints about the address labels on ballot envelopes being glued over other labels with neighbors' names are the result of a "quality control" effort and are actually "evidence we've taken every step" to insure ballots were mailed to the correct person and property, he said.

The required signatures of those voting will not be compared to their voter registration cards, since a Proposition 218 vote is a different process, Shelby said.

Several speakers at the meeting commended Supervisor Bruce Gibson and engineer Paavo Ogren for convincing the Regional Water Quality Control Board to lift the cease-and-desist orders randomly applied to 45 septic tank owners in Los Osos. The water board decided at its Sept. 7 meeting in San Luis Obispo to hold a hearing on the issue in December, once the results of the Proposition 218 vote are known.

"The water board gave their assurance that they won't do selective enforcement.

It's important in a democracy that decisions are not based on fear," citizen Al Barrow said during public comment.

With proposed assessments around $200 a month per household, "the affordability issue keeps coming back repeatedly," said Supervisor Jim Patterson. He said a Proposition 218 "yes" vote would open the door to county financing mechanisms, including federal grants.

"Every strategy to lower the costs is in play right now," said Gibson, adding that he and Ogren were to travel to Sacramento on Sept. 13 to lobby for state financing.

If property owners approve the sewer assessment, an environmental impact report will be prepared beginning in January, with comparisons of various treatment technologies and locations. The document will be available for public review six months later, according to Mark Hutchinson of the county public works department.


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