LIVINGSTON -- The California Department of Public Health recently aired concerns about Livingston's recall election and its ability to provide safe drinking water to residents.
After the 2009 rate increases were abolished during Friday's special meeting, some of the organization's concerns have come to fruition.
In a letter from Carl Carlucci, a supervising sanitary engineer of the California Department of Public Health, to the city dated Sept. 15, concerns were raised about the recall and the utility rate increases that prompted it.
"It is important for the city to understand that if the city violates any of the drinking water regulations as a result of having insufficient funds to properly operate and maintain the water system, our department will take the appropriate enforcement actions," the letter declared.
The water, wastewater and garbage rate increases which passed last year were repealed Friday night to their previous levels. Critics have said those rates can't support an adequate water system without spiraling the city into a financial crisis.
The repeals all passed 4-1, with Councilman Frank Vierra voting no.
Utility rates -- including water, wastewater and garbage -- will return to a total flat rate of $58.50 a month for most people, said City Manager Richard Warne.
Before being repealed Friday, wastewater rates were at a flat rate of $54.50 and garbage rates were at a flat rate of $27.90, according to city records. Water rates were based on usage.
The decreased rates will have a big impact on the city's budget.
"We'll be deficit-spending again in all three funds," Warne said.
As of Monday, the city's water deficit is $1,108,913.89, the wastewater deficit is $519,957.98 and the sanitation deficit is $455,531.63, according to city records.
Carlucci received copies of the city's 2009 Water Rate Study Report, Independent Auditor's Report for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2009, and the city's 2010-11 budget.
The possible lack of financial capacity could have an adverse effect on needed improvements, such as the capital improvement needed at well 15, which has high levels of manganese that exceed the secondary drinking water standard, according to Carlucci's letter.
"Our office is concerned that the city will not have adequate financial capability to provide for the ongoing operation, maintenance and upgrading of the system if the water rate increase is eliminated and the rates are rolled back to 1995 levels," according to the letter.
Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza, an early advocate of repealing the utility rate hikes, said he hasn't had a chance to sit down with officials of the California Department of Public Health to address their concerns.
There's a possibility that the council will increase the utility rates again in the future to help balance the funds, but any increases would be smaller and more manageable than what was passed in 2009, he added.
As long as the funds generate enough revenues to justify the services the city needs to fix some of its infrastructure to maintain quality water, then the state health department should be satisfied, Espinoza said.
For now, the city's drinking water is deemed by the California Department of Public Health as safe to drink, but providing it at such a low cost could change that if city officials aren't careful.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.