Livingston set to decide on utility fee hike

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comMarch 19, 2013 

LIVINGSTON -- City leaders will decide tonight whether they want to implement a utility rate increase that'll help the budget and improve garbage service.

A public hearing is scheduled for tonight's City Council meeting. Notices were mailed to property owners and residents about the proposed rate hike. If a majority of them didn't protest it, council members can consider implementing the increase.

If the increase is approved, typical bills would increase to $23.79 a month from $18.60 a month or $22.04 a month now charged users with an extra can, according to city data. In 2014, the rates would jump to $26.49 a month.

With the new system, users would also get a green waste can that they could put some recyclables in, such as cardboard and paper. Now, users only have one or two garbage cans for all their refuse.

As proposed, the rate increase would be done through resolution and ordinance, said City Manager Jose Antonio Ramirez.

If the council votes to waive the first reading and introduce the ordinance implementing the new rates, the second reading and possible adoption of the ordinance would be voted on by the council April 2.

The earliest that residents could see the increase on their bills is May 3, Ramirez said.

The rate increases are aimed at reducing the city's $482,000 deficit in the sanitation fund, providing a three-month reserve and paying for the services, he said.

A report from a city-hired consultant explains that an increase is necessary because revenue from the current garbage rates isn't enough to cover operation and maintenance costs of the city's garbage program.

"The idea is to provide better service and at the same time make sure we're collecting what it costs to operate and maintain a city service," Ramirez said.

The proposed changes haven't sparked any discontent from the community, Ramirez said. Residents have been open to it.

"We really went out there and educated people about this," he said. "I really haven't heard any negativity, and that's great."

While the figures look good, Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra said he still has some questions for staff. Mainly, he'd like to know how the city ended up with a deficit in the sanitation fund despite recent improvements to the shortfall.

"We have to do what we have to do, but I still want a little more explanation from the city," he said.

Though residents could soon see an increase to their utility bills, there is a possibility that there could be a $2-a-month decrease in 2017, Samra noted. That's when the deficit should be eliminated and the three-month reserve achieved.

Tonight's council meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at 1416 C St. in Livingston.

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