Livingston gets water project grant amid struggle to pass balanced budget

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 16, 2013 

— The city has been awarded $1.6million in state grant funding for water-related projects, city officials announced Monday.

The funding comes from a Community Development Block Grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development, according to officials.

About $1.3million will be used for water and sewer improvements; $93,000 for project planning; and $111,628 for general administration, including the cost of city staff’s time.

Livingston Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra said the city is barely keeping up with its growing water demands, especially during days with warmer temperatures.

“Currently we are at capacity with our wells,” Samra said. “So if we were to lose a well right now, the city would be in trouble.”

If the city loses one of its existing wells, Samra said, it would have to implement severe conservation efforts, such as restricting residents from watering their lawns or asking Foster Farms to alter its production.

The new water well will be the ninth for the city. It is to be built near Peach Avenue in the south side of the town. Samra said it’s one of the many steps the city is taking to resolve its long-standing water quality issues.

“Contaminants have always been in the wells over the years,” Samra said. “It’s not something new. But the state is increasing their standards and we just have to meet the guidelines.”

Samra said Livingston will invest about $9.6million in water improvement measures over the next five years, including the installation of filters to reduce contaminants. Roughly $8million comes from a recent lawsuit settlement awarded to the city in a case involving a chemical manufacturing company.

“We are now getting ready to install a filter to remove TCP and arsenic on an older well,” Samra said. “Our goal is to reduce the contaminants to meet and exceed the guidelines for safe water quality guidelines.”

Samra said many of the city’s wells have been abandoned over the years.

“Some of the wells are not producing as much water and they need to be shut down,” he said. “Others have been disconnected due to high nitrates.”

City Manager Jose Ramirez said the city sought state grant money to fund the projects in order to reduce a fiscal impact on ratepayers.

“Any outside funding that we get through grants or donations will help with the rates that residents pay,” Ramirez said. “The well is vital to the city because we want to be ready for new development, whether it’s residential, commercial or industrial.”

According to the 2010 census, Livingston’s population was 13,058, up from 10,473 at the 2000 census. Ramirez said the well will put the city in a position to continue growing while meeting residents’ water needs.

Ramirez said the city will speak with state officials to try to expedite receipt of the funding. Officials want to begin building the well within the next month, rather than waiting several months.

While officials celebrate the grant, the city still faces the challenge of passing a balanced 2013-14 operating budget.

The proposed budget projects the city’s revenues at $4.4million and expenditures at $4.5million, with an anticipated shortfall of $144,000.

Ramirez said city officials are in talks with employee unions to make concessions to close the gap without layoffs. The recommendations include possible furloughs, pay reductions and limiting vacation cash-outs, according to city documents.

“I think we’re almost there. We’ve been having negotiations with bargaining units and we’re moving along,” Ramirez said. “Hopefully they accept our offer, and we’re hoping to have the budget passed by the first meeting in October.”

Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209)385-2477 or

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