Riverbank's attempt to raise sewer rates goes down drain

RIVERBANK -- The city's latest attempt to raise sewer rates failed Monday night during a contentious council meeting.

Though council members voted 3-2 to raise monthly sewer bills by nearly $6 over three years for single-family households, the measure failed. State law requires four votes to raise sewer rates.

Councilman Dave White and his grandson and fellow council member Jesse James White voted against the rate increase. Mayor Virginia Madueño, Vice Mayor Sandra Benitez and Councilman Danny Fielder voted for it.

At one point, Madueño said she would call for a vote of no confidence against the Whites at a future meeting. No vote could be taken Monday because the item was not on the agenda. Dave White then called for a vote of no confidence against Fielder for calling his grandson an idiot at a previous meeting.

As he has done in previous meetings, Jesse James White accused city officials of misspending the proceeds of a 2005 sewer rate increase. He repeated his charge that the 2005 rate increase has helped pay for management salaries and raises.

City Manager Rich Holmer denied those accusations, saying the rate increase went to capital improvements. "Not one cent went for salaries," he said.

Insults, rebukes fly

"You can run your numbers, and I can run my numbers," Jesse James White said later to Holmer when the two disagreed on another issue related to city spending.

The Whites questioned the salaries paid to some city officials, implying they were too high.

Dave White got some digs in at Madueño, who had chastised him in March for missing two meetings when the council was scheduled to vote on the sewer rate increase.

The Whites want a citywide vote held on the proposed rate increase instead of following the process outlined in Proposition 218, the state law that governs how cities raise sewer rates and certain other fees.

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.

The city received a notice of violation Oct. 12 from the California Regional Water Quality Control Board for not completing a state-mandated inspection and management and maintenance plan for its sewer lines by its Aug. 2 deadline.

City officials say that work will cost $860,000. The city faces being fined for not completing the mandate. The city has tried several times since November 2008 to raise sewer rates and spent more than $90,000 on studies, mailings and other costs.

"I'm frustrated. I'm tired. I'm disappointed," Fielder said.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at or 578-2316.