It’s a summer where the continuing drought in California is squeezing everyone’s lifestyle, curtailing water deliveries to farmers and asking voluntary cutbacks from residents, but Riverbank homeowners and businesses might be paying more for both water and sewer over the next five years.
The City of Riverbank has issued a notice of the proposed increases and scheduled public hearings for the next meeting, Tuesday, Aug. 25, at the council chambers in City Hall, 6707 Third St., downtown.
The notice says that the cost of providing water and sewer services to residences and businesses exceeds the money it currently collects to pay for the services. It said the city has conducted a rate study for both departments to determine what rates need to be to ensure enough funds to cover operations, maintenance, improvements to the systems, emergency reserves and to pay off debts.
The notice goes on to explain each of these needs and why it is necessary to deal with them now.
According to the notice, “The City of Riverbank is dedicated to delivering your water safely and reliably and protecting this precious resource for future generations of Riverbank residents. It is important to work towards a sustainable future based upon solid financial footing. The proposed water rates below are being carefully considered for their ability to keep the water system operating efficiently and effectively, now and in years ahead.”
Officials say the last water rate increase occurred in 2009, almost six years ago.
A multiyear rate increase beginning on Oct. 1, 2015 is being proposed. By taking this approach, the city says the water system can be better prepared for the future to avoid significant unexpected rate increases. The Water Study prepared recommends updating to a uniform variable charge.
The notice includes example rate increases for all types of water users, from residential (1.5-inch service) up through larger, commercial installations.
Typically, a home service would start at $14.65 on Oct. 1 and climb to $27.07 by July 1, 2019. The proposed rates will increase yearly.
On Oct. 1, 2015, an example monthly rate will increase $5.12. On July 1, 2016, it would climb $2.96; July 2017, +$1.82; July 2018, +1.23; July 2018, +$1.29; July 2019, it would increase a whopping $12.42, just in that year, pretty much double the current rate where it started. Water and sewer are billed every two months.
More than a year ago, the council hired consultants to do a water rate study to determine if income from city water rates will be sufficient to cover recurring costs, coming improvements and reserves. Copies of the rate studies are available at the city's website: http://www.riverbank.org.
An additional cost was developed and will be applied to all water usage based on the conservation mandate established by the State of California. The City of Riverbank is required to reduce its water consumption by 32-percent.
The city says the Drought Surcharge will ensure that it can continue to have money available for the fixed cost of operations and maintenance of the water facilities, even when customers use less water. It is fully expected that when the drought ceases, the surcharge will no longer be in effect, they say.
Similar increases are proposed for the sewer system in Riverbank, which last saw a rate increase in 2008.
The proposed new sewer rates increase from the current $20.15 a month for residential customers to $25.79 on Oct. 1, to $33.01 on July 1, 2016, to $40.28 in 2017, to $47.12 in 2018 and increase to $49.48 by 2019.
Residential rates will grow $29.33 over those five years, more than double the current residential rate.
Commercial rates will be split into four tiers of variable rates, determined by usage. The lowest group starts with offices, the highest is restaurant with full kitchens.
The notification residents received and the public hearing the city has scheduled are part of a process required by Proposition 218, passed in 1997.
In general, the intent of Proposition 218 is to ensure that all taxes and most charges on property owners are subject to voter approval. In addition, Proposition 218 sought to curb some perceived abuses in the use of assessments and property-related fees, specifically the use of these revenue-raising tools to pay for general governmental services rather than property-related services.
From the State Legislative Analyst’s Office, the guidelines say that cities must mail information regarding assessments to all property owners. The assessment notice must contain a mail-in ballot for the property owner to indicate his or her approval or disapproval of the assessment.
After mailing the notices, the city must hold a public hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing, the local government must tabulate the ballots, weighing them in proportion to the amount of the assessment each property owner would pay.
The assessment may then be imposed only if 50 percent or more of the weighted ballots support the assessment.
In its notice to ratepayers, the city described the details of the process and how one can protest the rate increases.
How to Protest the Proposed Rates:
An owner or tenant of property that receives City water and sewer services may protest by mail or in person to the City of Riverbank, City Clerk, 6707 Third Street, Ste. A, Riverbank, CA 95367. Written protests must be received (not postmarked) by the City before or up to the conclusion of the public hearing on Aug. 25, 2015.
Any written protest submitted by e-mail or other electronic means will not be accepted.
Each protest must:
(1) Be in writing;
(2) State opposition to the proposed rate increases;
(3) Provide the location of the identified parcel (by assessor’s parcel number or street address); and
(4) Include the original signature of the customer submitting the protest.
Only one written protest per customer will be counted for purposes of determining whether there is a majority protest.
In rental situations where the tenant pays the utility bills, tenants must submit a written protest by the deadline specified in this notice, but only one vote per address shall be accepted.