Riverbank may face sewer fines

RIVERBANK -- The city is facing state fines of as much as $10,000 a day after the council failed to raise sewer rates Monday night.

The council voted 3-1 to raise residents' monthly rates by about $6 over three years, partly to pay for an $860,000 sewer inspection and maintenance plan that the state requires. Councilman Jesse James White cast the dissenting vote.

It would have taken a 4-0 vote to raise rates, however, because state law requires four-fifths approval. The council has had only four members since its mayor resigned in May. The Nov. 3 election will fill his vacancy.

The California Regional Water Quality Control Board sent the city a violation notice Monday for not completing the inspection and maintenance plan for its sewer lines. The deadline for the work was Aug. 2.

City officials said the state could fine Riverbank as much as $10,000 a day for not being in compliance.

Council members Danny Fielder and Sandra Benitez urged White to support the rate increase, and the exchange between Fielder and White was heated at times.

The rate increase would raise about $1.8 million. Besides the state mandate for the sewer lines, the increase would pay for repairs at the city's waste-water treatment plant and bring it into compliance with California Division of Occupational Safety and Health standards.

The Cal-OSHA deficiencies include not having a decontamination shower at the plant.

White and his grandfather and fellow council member, Dave White, supported passing a measure to pay for completing the fencing around the treatment plant and building a waste-water treatment plant office with decontamination shower. Those projects would cost $300,000. Cal-OSHA has not contacted Riverbank about the plant deficiencies.

The measure failed on a 2-2 vote, with the Whites voting for it and Fielder and Benitez voting no.

Dave White said he didn't want to take up the proposed sewer rate increase until after the Nov. 3 mayoral election when the council has five members. But the new mayor would not be seated on the council until the first meeting in December.

Dave White is one of six candidates running for mayor.

Jesse James White said he opposed the sewer rate increase, in part, because the city notified only property owners about the rate increase. He wanted the city to notify renters as well, though state law does not require it do so.