Kevin Valine

Notices on Modesto sewer rate increases in the mail

Brett Ewald, wraps a line around the fusible PVC sewer line as the installation nears completion. A second sewer line is installed from the east side of Tuolumne River off Zeff Rd., going under the river and coming up on the west side of the river near Dryden Golf Course.
Brett Ewald, wraps a line around the fusible PVC sewer line as the installation nears completion. A second sewer line is installed from the east side of Tuolumne River off Zeff Rd., going under the river and coming up on the west side of the river near Dryden Golf Course. dnoda@modbee.com

Modesto’s property owners and sewer customers soon can let the city know whether they oppose a proposal to raise sewer rates over the next five years.

The notices of the proposed rate increases were expected to be in the mail Thursday ahead of an April 26 public hearing in which the City Council will consider adopting the increases.

The city is looking at increasing the monthly sewer bills for single-family homes by as much as 6 percent annually over the five years. Under the full 6 percent increases, a single-family home would see its monthly bill increase from $31.92 to $42.45 over the five years. Other sewer customers, such as stores, restaurants and businesses, face steeper increases.

A city consultant’s report says Modesto’s current single-family sewer bill is roughly in the bottom third among neighboring Valley cities. The proposed increases would put Modesto in the top third, though that assumes none of the other cities raise rates.

The rate increases would take effect July 1 if approved by the council. The council would set the sewer rates each year during the five years, with the potential that it may not seek the full increases in a given year.

Modesto has to follow a state law known as Proposition 218 to raise sewer rates. The city is required to notify property owners and ratepayers of the proposed increases and hold a public hearing.

Modesto is essentially holding an election. But the only votes it will count are those who protest the increases. If more than 50 percent of the property owners or more than 50 percent of the sewer customers file written protests, the council cannot raise rates. Those in favor of the increases don’t have to do anything.

The notices will spell out how to file a written protest with the city.

The city says it needs higher sewer rates to help pay for projects to improve the sewer system and allow industrial customers to expand or new ones to locate here. Modesto also is looking at adjusting sewer rates to resolve lawsuits Stanislaus Food Products filed against it.

The tomato cannery claimed the city overcharged it for the use of the city’s cannery segregation line, which handles process water from the city’s canneries, by charging it for services it did not receive or need.

A city consultant agreed with Stanislaus. As part of a deal to end the litigation, Modesto agreed to study its sewer rates and incorporate the findings in the rates. Modesto has until May 1 to do this under the terms of the deal. Stanislaus Food Products and other segregation-line customers will see their rates fall steeply in the first year before rising by 6 percent annually over the next four.

The city will use the rate increases to borrow money for the projects, as well as spend down sewer fund reserves.

To learn more, go to www.modestogov.com/uppd/reports/wastewater/rates/sewer_rate.asp to read the sewer rate and fee study the city had commissioned by the consulting firm Bartle Wells Associates.

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316

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