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March 23, 2014

Turlock water rates could rise

Turlock could nearly double its water rates over five years to cover operating and improvement costs for its groundwater-fed system.

A proposal to nearly double water rates over five years could get final approval from the City Council on Tuesday night.

The average residential bill would go from $24.05 now to $47.10 by 2019. Business rates also would go up.

Under state law, the council could not approve the increases if a majority of the 17,541 affected property owners file protests at or before Tuesday’s public hearing. That has rarely happened since Proposition 218 in 1996 set up the process.

One protest to the Turlock proposal came from Sara Hoek, who shared her letter with The Modesto Bee.

“Citizens of Turlock are already burdened with high prices everywhere, and the drought will certainly raise prices even higher, especially at the grocery store,” she wrote.

The council voted 5-0 in December to start the rate increase process. The extra money is needed for operation and maintenance of the system and for projects that enhance the quality and quantity of the water, said Garner Reynolds, the city’s regulatory affairs manager, in a memo to the council.

The city relies entirely on wells for its water supply, which could be limited in some places by reduced aquifers and contaminants. It is working with the Turlock Irrigation District on a possible treatment plant that would provide Tuolumne River water to Turlock, Ceres and south Modesto, reducing their use of groundwater. That project could require a separate set of rate increases in the future.

A city staff report in December said Turlock’s current rates are far less than those of Modesto, Ceres and Merced.

Also Tuesday, the council will:

•  Consider combining the Turlock City Arts Commission with the Turlock Parks, Recreation and Community Programs Commission.

The city staff said the arts panel has had trouble keeping members on board. Under the proposal, its three current members would join the six people on the other commission. The name of the new body would be decided later.

• Hear the 2013 annual report on the Turlock Police Department from Chief Rob Jackson.

The council will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Turlock City Hall, 156 S. Broadway.

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