LIVINGSTON -- City leaders are pushing through with efforts to revisit utility rates, and they have a new consultant on board after the previous one was fired late last year.
A consultant's study is required before the city can move forward with any possible increase in water, wastewater or garbage rates. The study would analyze city finances and make recommendations on those rates.
And this time around, the city's trying something new -- hiring a public relations firm to relay details of the process to citizens.
During Tuesday's meeting, the City Council voted 4-0 to hire Hansford Economic Consulting of Truckee to provide utility rate studies and assist with other processes relating to possible rate increases.
Councilman Frank Vierra was absent during the meeting.
HEC is a one-person company. Catherine Hansford is the owner and principal of the business.
When reached by phone Wednesday, she didn't want to go into details about Livingston's utility rate situation until she gets clearance through the city's management.
The city will pay $46,000 for the work by HEC, but the council added in a supplementary clause in the action to allow the city to recover those funds in case there’s any trouble with the company that prevents the city from getting its data.
The deal also includes $8,500 for reimbursable expenses.
The work will be paid for through Livingston's water and wastewater enterprise funds, according to city documents.
Bartle Wells Associates, which specializes in independent public finance advising, was the previous consultant hired by the city, but was fired last year because of what City Manager Jose Antonio Ramirez classified as poor performance.
However, in December, an official with Bartle Wells said his company was let go not because of performance issues, but because of fallout from a tumultuous 2010 recall that ousted a mayor and councilwoman and eventually led to the departure of other city leaders.
The 2010 recall was sparked by steep utility rate increases.
But Councilman Gurpal Samra doesn't anticipate similar issues moving forward.
Though the council approved the arrangement with HEC, the contract still hasn't been signed. City officials expect those details to be firmed-up soon.
As with the HEC deal, the decision to look into using a public relations firm is a move that came from the city's Utility Rates Stakeholders' Committee -- a commission composed of industrial, commercial and residential utility users aimed at making the process more transparent and collaborative.
Samra said a public relations firm hasn't been hired yet, but it is something that's on the table. He thinks it would be a good move, despite the cost.
"It helps to get the information out," he said. "We don't want to repeat what we went through a couple years ago."
Any possible water rate increases will be made by the City Council. Plans won't develop until the consultant's study is done, and that date could be less than a year away.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.