Water prices likely will double for most families over the next five years, city leaders decided Tuesday after a lively hearing lasting nearly three hours.
Several people objected, citing pain in the pocketbook and the prospect of losing the great taste of Turlock well water as it’s mixed with Tuolumne River water. That’s the expensive long-term plan, as Turlock joins with Ceres to buy surface water from a $288 million Turlock Irrigation District treatment plant, to be built in a few years.
Most members of the City Council appeared to agonized over Tuesday's decision, called by Mayor Gary Soiseth “one of the most consequential we’ll take.”
“Unfortunately,” Councilman Gil Esquer said, “I don’t see a viable alternative at this point.”
Turlock needs a more reliable water source without the contaminants that have idled several wells over the years, officials said before the 4-0 vote; Councilwoman Amy Bublak was absent.
The average home now pays about $36 a month for water. The first increase comes in March, bringing that monthly bill to $42, then to $49 the next year and so on in gradual steps to $79 by 2022. Without Tuesday's action, step increases approved in 2014 would have brought the same monthly bill to $59 by 2022.
The new rate is higher than Fresno's but lower than water prices charged in Modesto and Ceres.
“This would kill my family’s budget,” said Danielle Ray-Reyes, before the vote.
"It just doesn't seem right," Ryan Chambers said. "We're getting charged taxes for everything. They're going to tax us to breathe pretty soon."
Ron Hillberg said, “This is an important decision. I hope you think carefully about what’s best for the citizens of Turlock, and not necessarily the government.”
Terry Vilkofsky said she loves the taste of Turlock water, which would change as it’s mixed with treated river water. Municipal services director Michael Cooke agreed that the taste will be altered.
Water in Modesto, where such mixing has been since 1994, is “undrinkable,” Vilkofsky said.
Some customers will be forced to make hard spending choices, the council acknowledged.
“How long can you go without water? Not very long. That’s the issue,” Councilman Bill DeHart said. “When you net out all the garbage and discussion and hurt, it boils down to, we’ve got to have water. And groundwater cannot continue to give it as it has in the past.”
A final count Tuesday showed that 715 people submitted written protests opposing the increase. That fell far short of the 9,444 mark needed to kill the proposal outright.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390