In late fall, the City of Riverbank hosted a city council meeting that featured a discussion of the Riverbank Regional Recycled Water Project (RRRWP) and a Draft Sewer Rate Study that was presented by Bartle Wells Associates. City residents were mailed a notice of the proposed increase and if they were not in agreement, they were instructed to mail back their protest. Now, the city is planning a public hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 13 regarding the proposal and those that want to comment can do so there as well. If the rate payers do not protest, then the new rates would be effective as of Jan. 1, 2023.
The notices of the rate increase were sent out to citizens on Oct. 21 in both English and Spanish. Proposition 218 requires the local government to inform the citizens if they are planning to impose taxes, or fees for voter consideration and would need a majority protest of 50 percent plus one to block passage of the increase.
Neal T. Colwell with KSN (Kjeldsen Sinnock Neudeck) Civil Engineers and Land Surveyors gave a presentation on the preliminary design, environmental document preparation, and financial analysis of the RRRWP at the City Council meeting held on Sept. 27. Colwell discussed the projected cost of the project at $112.63 million and shared that there were other options for consideration including reduced scale recycled water program, with future improvements phased, expand with percolation disposal in lieu of recycled water, and construct minimal secondary improvements to address water quality at an estimated cost of $58.4 million.
He also mentioned that they are looking into other ways to fund the project like grants, loans, and other financial assistance.
The reduced scale recycled water program with the phased approach was estimated at $90.4 million.
Erik Helgeson with Bartle Wells Associates presented the draft rate study via Zoom which included details about the rate study, Proposition 218, project scenarios, how the rates are designed, what they would need to be for the project, and recommendations.
Helgeson explained that there are three scenarios and each one has different components. With the growth of the city, Helgeson said that there will be more rate payers and that can lower the rates. The project supports recycled water that will be sold to help fund the project and grant funding which can also lower rates. Project Scenario #1 is the Base project estimated at $112.4 million, Scenario #2 Phased Project at $90.4 million, and Scenario #3 the Minimum Project at $58.4 million as Colwell noted as well. Both Scenario #2 and #3 would need additional construction to meet the full growth projection.
The maximum rate for residential customers in the five years would be $123.13 for the base project, $109.39 for the phased project, and $92.72 for the minimum project. However, Helgeson stated that the amounts can change and be lower dependent on the amount of grant funding the city receives.
Councilmember District 1 Luis Uribe commented during the meeting that he was for the Phased approach which is Scenario #2 and was comfortable in proceeding with the Proposition 218 notices.
Councilmember District 4 Darlene Barber-Martinez expressed that she was concerned about the increases and the cost as there are many people on a fixed income. She suggested to investigate programs that can help residents pay their bills. She also said that she would like the notices that were sent out to be clear and easy to understand.
City Manager Marisela Garcia explained that they will be able to change the rates as grant funding is received, low interest loans are secured, connection fees collected and, in the future, the sale from the recycled water which will allow the city to reevaluate the fees and adjust the rates.
Councilmember District 2 Rachel Hernandez was in favor of the Base Project which is Scenario #1.
Vice Mayor Cal Campbell agreed with both Martinez and Uribe regarding proceeding with Scenario #2, the Phased approach.
Mayor Richard O’Brien made a motion to proceed with Scenario #2 and with the Proposition 218 notices which passed 5-0.
The full report is available to the public online as well as the video from the Sept. 27 meeting at riverbank.org.