Riverbank to look at sewer fee hike

RIVERBANK -- The City Council is expected tonight once again to take up a proposal to raise monthly sewer bills by about $6 a month over three years for single-family households.

The city has tried several times over more than a year to raise sewer rates, which city officials say is needed to pay for upgrades, bring the waste-water treatment system into compliance with a state mandate and avoid state fines.

The rate increase has failed to gather enough votes. Four of the five council members have to approve a sewer rate increase, according to state law.

Councilman Dave White, who has voted for and against raising rates, could cast tonight's deciding vote.

Mayor Virginia Madueño, Vice Mayor Sandra Benitez and Councilman Danny Fielder support the increase. Jesse James White -- Dave White's grandson and fellow council member -- does not.

Jesse James White has a proposal at tonight's council meeting to hold a citywide vote on the proposed rate increase, instead of following the process outlined in Proposition 218.

Proposition 218 requires cities to send protest notices to residents before raising sewer rates and certain other fees. If a majority protests, a council cannot raise rates.

Less than 1 percent of Riverbank residents have protested the proposed rate increase after several mailings the city has done over more than a year. In the most recent mailing, the city sent protest notices to 9,437 renters and property owners. A staff report says the city received 22 protests.

City Manager Rich Holmer said Riverbank surveyed other cities to see if they had held elections on raising rates instead of following Proposition 218. Holmer said none of the cities had held a vote.

Residents will have an opportunity tonight to tell the council what they think about the proposed sewer rate increases.

The City Council meeting will start at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 6707 Third St.