June 12, 2014

Livingston council approves utility rate increases

Residents will see their utility rates nearly double next month after the City Council unanimously adopted water and sewer increases last week.

Residents will see their utility rates nearly double next month after the City Council unanimously adopted water and sewer increases last week.

For homes using less than 25,000 gallons of water a month, the water rate of $9.90 per month will jump to $19.08 by July 15 then $22.90 in 2015. It will increase to $24.26 in 2016, $26.13 in 2017 and $28.19 in 2018.

Although it’s a reduction of 10,000 gallons from the current limit, Livingston Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza said most residents don’t use more than 25,000 gallons of water. Those that do will be forced to pay a dollar extra for each additional 1,000 gallons of water used.

Apartment residents will see a reduction in their monthly water allocation from 35,000 gallons per unit to 10,000 gallons. Commercial, industrial and agriculture accounts will see no change to their water allocation, currently 35,000 gallons a month.

Sewer rates will rise from $30 to $42.22 in 2014, $42.80 in 2015, $43.47 in 2016, $43.62 in 2017 and $43.84 in 2018.

City officials have been pushing for utility rate increases for more than a year, saying the hikes are necessary to offset negative balances in the city’s enterprise funds and pay off bonds and debt.

In other city business, council members approved an emergency contract to make repairs to a damaged main pipe at the wastewater treatment plant. The total cost of repairs will be $57,500, but City Manager Jose Ramirez said the problem will get worse if the leak is not contained.

“If the actual force main breaks, then you’re going to have erosion and contamination, and we’ll have a pretty big bill,” Ramirez said. “It’s a health and safety issue so it was classified as an emergency project.”

Conco West was the contractor selected to perform the repairs. According to city documents, the contractor is already working on treatment facilities at one of the city’s water wells.

The council also adopted a resolution to move forward with constructing a roundabout at the intersection of Main and B streets. The $776,100 project is funded by federal and local sources, including federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality funds.

The city will contribute $89,019 from its local transportation development and gas tax funds.

The project was recommended by architects and planners who visited Livingston last year to brainstorm ways to revitalize its downtown. Construction of the project will “improve the quality of life for residents as well as greatly reduce emissions due to the removal of the four stop signs,” according to city documents.

“That’s probably one of the most congested intersections that we have,” said Livingston Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra. “Keeping the traffic moving without stopping makes a big difference.”

In an effort to provide mentoring services to Livingston High School students, the city’s police department entered into a contract with the Merced County Mental Health Department to employ a full-time school resource officer. The City Council approved adding the position to its roster during its meeting earlier this month.

The full-time officer’s salary will be funded by a grant, according to city documents, which will be $230,700 for three years. Livingston High School currently employs two part-time school resource officers, paid for by the Merced Union High School District.

The City Council also extended the city manager’s contract by two years.

Jose Ramirez’s three-year contract began on June 17, 2011, and was set to expire this month. His new contract will end in 2016.

Ramirez did not see a change in his $122,000 annual salary, but the city manager voluntarily took a 5 percent pay cut last year. The 5 percent cut expires this month, but Ramirez said he’ll take another cut if the city’s budget calls for it.

“At this point, we don’t now what our deficit will be,” he said. “But whatever it is, I’m not going to ask my employees to do something that I won’t do myself.”

Ramirez’s contract extension also reduced his severance pay in the event of a layoff, from five months to three.


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