Oakdale water rates to rise substantially

jholland@modbee.comAugust 28, 2013 

    alternate textJohn Holland
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Agriculture, Turlock; local news editor on Sundays
    Bio: John Holland has been a reporter at The Bee for 12 years. He has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and previously worked at the Union Democrat in Sonora and the Visalia Times-Delta.
    Recent stories written by John
    Email: jholland@modbee.com

— Residents could get hefty increases in sewer rates, totaling about 50 percent over four years, to deal with a looming debt in the waste-water system.

A typical home's monthly bill would hit $61.27 in July 2017, compared with $40.25 today, if the proposal goes through. Business rates also would rise substantially.

Under state law, the increases would be blocked if a majority of customers protest at or before an Oct. 21 public hearing before the City Council. That has rarely happened since Proposition 218 established this process in 1996.

The city also proposes small increases in water rates to reflect general inflation in 2016 and 2017, on top of already-approved hikes in preceding years.

Oakdale borrowed $13 million to pay for improvements at its waste-water treatment plant but has fallen short of the rate income needed to pay it back.

A year ago, the council voted to pay just $324,697 of the $884,409 owed in the first installment on the loan. The money was owed to the State Water Resources Control Board, which agreed to restructure the payments if the city raised customer rates.

In a July 15 memo to the council, City Manager Bryan Whitemyer said the main reason for the shortfall was the sewer rate structure. It is based in part on the volume of water used in winter, and when water rates increased, customers cut back on their use more than officials expected.

"At my own home," Whitemyer wrote, "I started shutting off all irrigation water to my yard during the winter months to make sure I had the lowest rate possible."

The proposed sewer rate structure would eliminate volume-based charges for residential customers, who instead would pay fixed fees each month. Businesses would continue to have volume charges on top of fixed fees.

The increases would be on top of a series of sewer hikes that started in 2009, when the typical customer had been paying $17 a month.

"Now we have to raise our rates again, which is really disheartening," Mayor Pat Paul said Tuesday. Surprisingly, she said, the proposal so far has not generated an outcry.

The city already is raising water rates under a schedule approved earlier. This includes 10 percent in July of this year, 8 percent next July and 5 percent in July 2015.

For a typical home with a 1-inch meter, the water bill is $20.56 a month with the July increase and will be $23.32 two years from now.

Under the latest proposal, the city would increase water rates based on the Consumer Price Index in 2016 and 2017. This is projected to be 2.42 percent each year, according to the California Department of Finance.

Even with the increases, Oakdale's water would be among the cheapest in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. The memo noted typical residential bills ranging from $18.01 in Turlock to $48.25 in Modesto and $60.35 in Hughson.

Oakdale's current sewer rates are near the middle of the regional range cited in the report. It shows Ripon at the low end at $16.20 and Hughson on top at $82.37.

The rate hearing will be at 7 p.m. on Oct. 21 in the Oakdale City Council chamber, 277 N. Second Ave.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.


Proposed sewer charges(typical Oakdale home per month)

• Current $40.25

• January 2014 $42.02

• July 2014 $48.32

• July 2015 $55.57

• July 2016 $58.35

• July 2017 $61.27

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