TURLOCK — A potential residential water bill of $97 per month prompted City Council members to ask for more options.
Council members Tuesday were scheduled to consider scheduling a public hearing for March on new water rates. After lengthy discussion, they delayed action for a few weeks.
Two forces are at work to drive up the city's water rates: a proposed water treatment plant and the state's requirement that cities start charging residents and businesses metered rates, rather than flat rates, next year.
The plant is a joint project with Modesto, Ceres, Hughson and the Turlock Irrigation District. Turlock's share of construction and pipeline costs would be about $85 million, Director of Municipal Services Dan Madden said.
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As proposed in 2003, the TID would build and operate the plant, with the cities contributing money. Last year, the TID opted to only provide the water.
A dwindling groundwater supply makes the project necessary, Madden said. The plant would use water from the Tuolumne River.
"We have an excellent water supply right now," Madden said.
"But we're having more difficulty each time we need to plant a new well. A reliable supply is in question."
Ratepayers would have to cover the costs, which would lead to hefty increases over the next few years, culminating in a monthly rate of $96.97 by 2014-15.
City Council members balked at the idea of charging residents that much for water.
"I think we need to go look at other options," said Councilman Ted Howze.
"What's being proposed here, while it would be tremendous for the community, is fiscally unattainable."
At the same time, council members said they don't want to opt out of the plant completely and hope the other cities don't, either.
"I don't want to lose any of our partners," Councilman Kurt Spycher said. "But we're talking about spending $90 million and putting that expense on the ratepayers."
Staff members will return to the council with other options in a few weeks.
In September, the Hughson City Council voted down a similar water rate increase for its residents.
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2343.