Turlock sewer rates going up

TURLOCK -- It's going to get more expensive to flush the toilet in Turlock.

Council members voted Tuesday night to increase sewer rates 24 percent over six years. Rates will begin rising Jan. 1.

To start, residents will pay 7 percent more for their waste to be carried to South Walnut Road, where it's processed. The average ratepayer's bill will increase from $34.65 to $37.10 next year, and to $42.95 in 2013.

The rate increases follow gradual hikes that occurred from 2003 through 2006.

The increase approved Tuesday is expected to generate more than $30 million, which will be put toward a plant expansion. The plant, which treats waste-water from Ceres, Denair and Keyes in addition to Turlock, is processing at capacity. It would not be able to handle more housing development or organic industrial waste, said Municipal Services Director Dan Madden.

The expansion will include a larger pipe to carry waste to the treatment plant.

The rate increase also will pay for anticipated state-mandated upgrades, Madden said.

Some residents took issue with having to pay for an expansion that would benefit future residents and businesses.

"We're told new development pays for itself, but we're also told we've reached capacity. So is it paying for itself?" asked Elmano Costa of Turlock.

Future residents will pay for the expansion as well, Madden said. It will be factored into their development fees.

If future growth will pay for itself, then how about a fee decrease when more homes start to go up, Costa asked.

The extra money would go into a reserve fund, Madden responded.

Those opposed to the rate increase said the fee structure seems to benefit businesses.

The purpose behind the expansion is to benefit future growth, including expansion of the city's business sector, Madden said.

"We're full at this point in time," he said. "It's kind of an if-you-build-it-they-will-come thing."

City officials want to attract more industrial development to Turlock's west side.

The additional revenue from future development will help the city afford anticipated state-mandated upgrades to waste-water treatment plants. The last three years of the gradual fee hike approved Tuesday night will go toward future state mandates.

According to state law, 8,000 people would have had to protest the fee hike to stop it. About 100 people called and 12 people sent letters of opposition, Madden said.

The other cities that have their waste-water treated at the facility will con- sider the same fee increases soon.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at ehightower@modbee.com or 578-2382.