Livingston rate increase notices on council agenda

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comApril 1, 2014 

— The City Council tonight will consider starting the notice process for the proposed water and sewer rate increases, a process that allows property owners to protest the rates within a 45-day window.

The notices likely will include the rates under each of the three proposed scenarios released last month. If 50.1 percent of property owners affected by the increases protest them, the city cannot raise the rates.

About 3,000 property owners or account holders will be affected by the increases, said Livingston Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra. “If 1,501 write a letter of protest, then the council cannot proceed at all whatsoever,” Samra said. “The city cannot proceed and it stops all action.”

A written protest must be mailed or dropped off to City Hall within 45 days of the notices being sent. Every letter received will be counted by the City Clerk, Samra said.

The first rate hike scenario reflects the highest ratepayer increases because it funds all projects from the city’s capital improvement program list, which include installing filtration systems at water wells, purchasing operating equipment and replacing old gear. The first scenario would also nearly double the water rate of $9.90 to $19.08 by June or July for homes using less than 25,000 gallons of water. The rate would increase to $22.90 in 2015, $24.26 in 2016, $26.13 in 2017 and $28.19 in 2018.

The second scenario includes the same capital improvements, but it excludes upgrading the filtration system of one water well with high concentrations of arsenic. As in the first scenario, the water rates would increase gradually over the next five years, reaching $19.08 this year $22.90 in 2015, $23.76 in 2016, $24.63 in 2017 and $26.41 in 2018.

The third option is least costly to ratepayers, but it excludes improvements to two of the city’s wells, he one in the second scenario and another that’s plagued by arsenic and manganese. The third scenario would scale back the increases, setting this year’s rate at $18.58, then reaching $21.45 in 2015, $22.58 in 2016, $23.03 in 2017 and $24.55 in 2018.

The wastewater rates are the same in all three scenarios, rising from $30 to $42.22 in 2014, $42.80 in 2015, $43.47 in 2016, $43.62 in 2017 and $43.84 in 2018.

Samra said he’s gotten “mixed feedback” from the community about the proposed rates. “Some people are saying we understand, others are saying they don’t like it,” he said. “And some are saying they don’t like the amounts.”

Livingston Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza said the increased rates have been a “sensitive” issue for the community, and that’s why city leaders put together a stakeholders committee to discuss the city’s water issues.

“Last time, there was major contention regarding the rates,” Espinoza said. “And we want people to be informed and be able to ask questions about the process we used to come up with the rates.”

City officials also announced three public workshops to discuss the rates: April 8 in English, April 10 in Spanish and April 22 in Punjabi. The workshops will begin at 6 p.m. in the City Council chamber, 1416 C St.

The City Council meeting will begin at 7 tonight at the City Council chamber.

Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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