April 10, 2014

Water and sewer rate increases are discussed in Livingston

The city of Livingston held its first public meeting this week about increasing water and sewer rates.

The city of Livingston held its first public meeting this week about increasing water and sewer rates.

Questions flowed and tempers flared as a handful of residents sounded off about the possibility of having their utility bills nearly double in a year. Some residents blamed the City Council for the city’s ongoing water quality problems while others showed up to find out what was going on.

“I didn’t understand a word they were saying,” Livingston resident Theresa Byrd said, clutching the notice about proposed rates hikes in one hand. The 67-year-old told city officials she lives on a fixed income – mostly Social Security – and can’t afford another increase.

“I’m sorry, but the rates really kill me,” Byrd said. “If everybody in this room tried to live on $1,000 a month, they’d have a hell of a time doing it.”

The city has long struggled with water contaminants such as arsenic, manganese and trichloropropane, but officials stressed the importance of fixing the problem now. They said the rate increases will fund repairs and improvements to infrastructure of existing water wells, including installing filtration systems.

Officials said the rate hikes will also help offset negative balances in the city’s enterprise funds, build a reserve and help pay off existing bonds and debt. By the second and third year of rate increases, the city’s water and wastewater enterprise funds will start to see a positive balance, said City Manager Jose Ramirez.

“Costs have escalated over time to operate these systems, but revenues have not,” Ramirez said during the meeting, adding that the city’s utility rates are at 1995 levels.

Following a yearlong rate study that cost the city $46,000, three rate scenarios were presented. The first scenario would fund improvement projects to three water wells, but would nearly double rates in a year. The water rate of $9.90 would jump to $19.08 by July, then increase to $22.90 in 2015; $24.26 in 2016; $26.13 in 2017; and $28.19 in 2018.

The second scenario excludes upgrading the filtration system of one water well with high concentrations of arsenic. As in the first scenario, the water rate would reach $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. That scenario would set this year’s rate at $18.58; $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.

All three scenarios would cap residential water usage at 25,000 gallons a month – a reduction of 10,000 gallons from the current limit. Residents would pay about a dollar extra for each additional 1,000 gallons of water used.

Apartment residents would see a reduction in their monthly water allocation from 35,000 gallons per unit to 10,000 gallons.

Commercial, industrial and agriculture accounts would see no change to their water allocation, currently $35,000 gallons a month.

Some Livingston residents say they understand the need for rate increases. “Each resident has to conserve water. No matter where you look, there are increases,” resident Rick Soria said during the meeting. “Look at the gas prices.”

Californians can reduce their water usage by making a few small changes, according to Save Our Water.

Taking showers that last less than five minutes can save about 15 gallons of water a day, and fixing leaky pipes can save 70 gallons a day. About 10 gallons a day can be saved by turning off the faucet while brushing teeth.

Property owners have 45 days to protest the rate hikes by writing a letter to be mailed or dropped off to City Hall. If at least 50 percent of affected residents plus one protest the hikes, the City Council cannot move forward with raising the rates.

In Livingston, about 3,000 property owners or account holders will be affected by the increases.

Officials will hold another rate-hike meeting April 22, in the Punjabi language. That workshop begins at 6 p.m. in the City Council chamber, 1416 C St.

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