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Council Rejects Sewer Rate Hike
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Following protests from the floor and doubts expressed by council members, the Riverbank City Council has rejected a long planned proposal to raise the sewer rates by a 4-1 vote.

The proposed ordinance was to raise the monthly residential charges from $20.15 to $22.67 for this fiscal year and by another $1.36 per month for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. The plan also called for increasing sewer connection fees from $1,350 to $4,380 for a single family dwelling and approving an annual Consumer Price Index raise.

Calling the official notice that went out to all property owners "jargon," councilmember Virginia Madueno said at Monday night's meeting (Nov. 10) that she wanted assurance all other methods of raising funds to improve the sewer system had been met and that residents fully understood their rates were about to go up.

"When we see a notice like this, we see bureaucracy at its worst. We need to have things written in layman's terms. When they get their first bills, then there will be uproar," she said, saying the council should have held a workshop and then a public hearing to explain the matter to its citizens.

Under Proposition 218, the city had mailed notices to 6,872 landowners and received back only 31 written protests in addition to vocal protests made by businessman Daryl Daniel and local residents Evelyn Halbert and Annabelle Gammon at Monday's meeting. The law required more than 50 percent resident protests to kill the city's proposal. But city officials had indicated previously they would take note of an undue number of protests.

Council members brought up the poor economy and the extra burden on residents even a small sewer rate increase would bring.

"I've always been for development paying its own way and am not against the $4,000 hookup fee for a developer," said Dave White. "But must we load more on residents by raising sewer rates? Water rates will be next. And Modesto is cutting back."

Vice Mayor Sandra Benitez said she wanted to see if the city's newly introduced time cards worked - the cards require staff to list what time they spent on what duty and therefore to what fund their time and pay is allocated. She also complained at hearing Crossroads residents recently had to be cautioned by letter that putting unsuitable materials down the sewers was causing blockages.

Mayor Chris Crifasi alone voted for the sewer rate increase.

City Manager Rich Holmer repeated the city needs to raise about $1.9 million to improve the antiquated sewer system and avoid state imposed fines in addition to meeting ever stricter requirements on the purity of any water discharged into rivers.