The Lodi City Council will discuss how to proceed with mailing new water rate increase notices to residents at its Wednesday night meeting.
The discussion follows a Dec. 19, 2013, meeting where the council directed city staff to include Proposition 218 notices into utility bills along with a letter of explanation from the Public Works Department in both English and Spanish.
Staff has prepared the notices, explanation and a proposed rate chart for review on Wednesday.
However, after researching its mailing options, the city manager’s office has concerns about sending the new notices to residents with their bills.
According to the staff report prepared by the city manager’s office, the translated notice, which totals eight double-sided pages, is too large to fit into standard envelopes the city uses to mail its bills.
Staff said it typically costs 60 cents to mail a single bill to residents. To mail the new notices with the bill would require a larger, 9-inch-by-12-inch flat rate envelope, costing about $3.
In addition, Pre-Sort Center, the city’s mailing support service, said it was concerned it will mismatch an unknown number of bills with addresses unless envelopes with clear windows on the front are used.
Staff said Pre-Sort Center has not been able to find flat rate envelopes with a clear window.
City staff said previous separate notices cost only 49 cents to mail to customers.
With more than 50,000 notices to send out, staff said it would cost only $24,500 to mail the notices separately. It would cost about $150,000 to mail the notices with utility bills, staff said.
The city’s water and wastewater departments would split the total cost with Waste Management, Interim City Manager Steve Schwabauer said.
The direction to restart the notification process was given after public works director Wally Sandelin informed the council a computer error had excluded about 1,300 letters out of 20,000 from being sent to residents in Oct. 2013.
Schwabauer said the city has as many as 28,000 accounts to bill, many of which are not the property owner. He said the city must send bills and notices to both property owners and tenants.
Late last year, Schwabauer said the 1,300 people didn’t receive the water rate increase notice because the city tried sending two notices to property owners and tenants, but in many cases, the tenants never received the notices.
“We are not going to try that again, because we don’t understand what caused the computer error at this point,” Schwabauer said. “To be on the safe side, we’re going to have to send dual notices, because it’s safer than having some delay in everyone receiving their notices.”
Schwabauer added that city staff is working to resolve the computer error.
In addition to many residents not receiving notices, many Spanish-speaking residents attended the Dec. 19 meeting to inform the council that they did not understand the water rate increase or Proposition 218, because notices were only in English.
Proposition 218 requires local governments to provide notice of the proposed rate increase to property owners 45 days prior to holding a public hearing. The proposition also requires governments provide property owners the opportunity to vote on any new or increased assessment before it is approved. If more than 50 percent of the residents and property owners submit protests before an April 16 public hearing, the rate increase will not take effect.
If residents and property owners filed protests prior to the Dec. 19 council meeting, those comments will be included with the new protests to be counted at the April 16 public hearing.
The previous letter explained that the rates for water and wastewater could increase by as much as 3 percent over the next five years. The changes were originally set to take effect Jan. 1, 2014. The actual percentage to which the rates would increase would be decided by the council each year.
Wednesday’s Lodi City Council meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Carnegie Forum, 305 W. Pine St.
Contact reporter Wes Bowers at email@example.com.