RIVERBANK — Councilman Jesse James White cast the dissenting vote last month that blocked raising sewer rates.
White's objection? He wanted the city to notify not only property owners about the proposed increase, as required by state law, but renters as well.
City staff responded by changing the notice, which is the first step in raising sewer bills, to include renters, starting the process anew.
But Monday night, White and his grandfather and fellow council member, Dave White, voted against sending notices to property owners and renters, causing the effort to fail on a 2-2 vote.
City officials say the increase is needed in part to pay for an $820,000 state-mandated sewer line inspection and maintenance plan. The city has received a notice of violation from the state water board for not completing the sewer line work by its Aug. 2 deadline.
Before the vote, City Manager Rich Holmer said he didn't believe the water board would fine the city for not being in compliance if he could tell the board the city was taking steps to raise rates to pay for the sewer line work.
Dave White said that, based on his conversation with a state water board official, he didn't believe the city was facing fines and could ask for more time.
After the meeting, Holmer said he doubted the water board will be as kind to the city as White thinks. "My guess is they won't be," Holmer said.
Before the vote, Jesse James White questioned the sewer fund's finances. He said he hadn't received an audit of last year's sewer fund as he requested and wanted to know if the 2005 sewer rate increase had been used for raises.
Finance Director Marisela Hernandez said the audit was on the city's Web site and that the sewer rate increase was used to issue bonds for work at the waste-water treatment plant.
This is the third time in the past year the city has tried to raise monthly sewer bills. The city has paid a consultant $80,000 for the three attempts and $6,000 to send out notices two times.
Holmer said after the meeting that he may not bring the sewer rates back to the council until January. That would mean bringing in the consultant for a fourth time at a cost of $20,000. But Holmer added he may bring the sewer rates back to the council in December.
The council will be at full strength then, when Virginia Madueño is sworn in as mayor. The former councilwoman was elected mayor Nov. 3. The council has had only four members since May when its last mayor resigned.
Madueño attended Monday's council meeting and afterward said she would vote for a sewer rate increase. The proposed increase would raise monthly bills by nearly $6 over three years, bringing in about $1.8 million for upgrades and repairs at the waste-water treatment plant.
But her vote might not be enough. Under state law, it takes four Riverbank council members to pass a sewer rate increase.
The council did vote 4-0 to spend $105,000 to complete the fencing around the treatment plant and to install a portable decontamination shower and changing room for workers.
A California Division of Occupational Safety and Health inspector visited the plant Oct. 27 and said the city would be fined for not having the shower and changing room, according to a city staff report.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2316.