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Sewer Ballots Back To Public
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Still seeking approval to raise its sewer rates, Riverbank officials plan to send out protest ballots again, to tenants as well as property owners. Having tried for a year to raise rates, the city has been told it is violating state regulations and threatened with fines if it does not produce an action plan by Nov. 12. But its official vote even to send ballots will not occur until the council meeting of Nov. 9 because the topic was on the Oct. 26 agenda only for discussion and still needs a council vote.

Emotions ran high at the session. There was some heated argument and finger pointing between council members Danny Fielder and Jesse James White and between White and City Manager Rich Holmer.

Saying this matter should have been settled a year ago and this will be the third time the city has tried to meet Proposition 218 requirements, Fielder later apologized to the audience but not his fellow councilmember for becoming "frustrated and impassioned when I try to remain logical and reasonable."

White accused Holmer of using "scare tactics" to push the council into approving the sewer rate raise and demanded copies of e-mails between the city and the California Water Quality Control l Board.

Vice Mayor Dave White, who presided over the meeting, said he liked to "keep it loose" so everybody could express their opinion and this reminded him of meetings 15 years ago that were lively and ran far into the night.

Staff advised the council that sending the extra ballots would cost another $5,000 and that the city could not avoid that expense by sending them with the utility bills because they go out at the beginning of the month.

Holmer said Jesse James White and he had discussed borrowing $300,000 from the sewer and general fund reserves to construct a laboratory, office and shower facilities at the wastewater treatment plant at a cost of $200,000 with the remainder used for completing the security fencing and some other requirements of the needed upgrades.

They also agreed the city should send a ballot to each household informing them of the increase.

Their last agreement was the annual raise to meet the Consumer Price Index would end in five years - at the meeting, White asked this be cut to three years.

The city is seeking a sewer rate increase for repairs, maintenance and system improvements totaling $1.7 million. The monthly increases for residences would be $3.64 for this fiscal year, $1.21 for 2010-2011 and $1.05 for 2011 to 2012.

To get the sewer rate hikes implemented as soon as possible and still satisfy the 45-day comment period, city staff will request council meet on Dec. 28. A meeting that close to Christmas is usually cancelled.

Staff commented that if council postpones approval of sewer rate increases into the New Year, the figures will be too old and probably require another study at a cost of about $20,000.

Holmer noted the city currently faces a notice of violation for not furnishing a collection system assessment (estimated cost of $510,000), non-compliance with OSHA rules on employee safety and health, insufficient reserves to meet bond covenants and no study of seismic safety for the wastewater trestle that crosses the river ($40,000).