State

Riverbank votes 3-2 for sewer rate bump

RIVERBANK — The city will try for the fourth time in more than a year to raise monthly sewer bills.

The City Council voted 3-2 this week to notify property owners and renters of the proposed increase, the first step in raising rates.

If a majority of those notified protest, the council can't raise sewer bills, according to state law. But that hasn't been the holdup; less than 1 percent of those notified have protested.

Twice the rate increases failed to gather the necessary four council votes; state law requires a four-fifths council vote to raise sewer rates. And one time, the council deadlocked 2-2 on sending out notices of the proposed increase.

The city has spent $68,000 in rate studies and mailings for the proposed rate increases, City Manager Rich Holmer said.

"In my opinion," he said Thursday, "this is not being fiscally responsible. We continue to do these mailings and no one is protesting this."

The proposed increase would raise monthly bills by almost $6 over three years, from $20.15 a month to $26.05 a month for residential users. The first increase would take effect July 1.

Mayor Virginia Madueño and council members Sandra Benitez and Danny Fielder voted to send out the notices at Monday's council meeting; Councilmen Dave White and Jesse James White voted against it.

"I don't think it's necessary," Jesse James White said Thursday. "In the last sewer rate increase, the money didn't get used for what it was supposed to be used for. I also don't believe in raising taxes or fees in a recession."

City officials say the increase is needed in part to pay for an $820,000 state- mandated sewer line inspection, management and maintenance plan.

The city received a notice of violation Oct. 12 from the California Regional Water Quality Control Board for not completing the sewer line work by its Aug. 2 deadline and could be fined.

A California Division of Occupational Safety and Health inspector visited the plant Oct. 27 and said the city would be fined for not having a shower and changing room, according to a city staff report.

Holmer said the city is installing a temporary shower and changing room.

The rate increase would raise $1.79 million. In addition to the state-mandated sewer line work, it would pay for waste-water treatment plant upgrades and repairs.

At Monday's meeting, the council also:

Appointed Benitez as vice mayor for the coming year. She replaces Dave White.

Delayed purchasing a vacant building to expand the city museum. Madueño wanted to review the purchase information before voting. The item is expected to be on the agenda at the next council meeting.

Voted 3-2 to raise the sewer connection fee for single-family homes from $1,350 to $4,420. The Whites voted against the increase.

Heard an update from staff on the city's planned April 1 takeover of the Army ammunition plant.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or 578-2316.

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