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Letters go out to Lodi residents about water rate increase

Protest votes accepted until Dec. 18 meeting

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Posted: Tuesday, November 5, 2013 12:00 am

Lodi residents began receiving letters from the city over the weekend explaining proposed water and wastewater rate increases, along with information on how to lodge a protest vote if they don’t want the price hikes to go into effect.

The Lodi City Council will vote whether to approve the proposed water, wastewater and garbage rates annually over the next five years on Dec. 18, following a public hearing during the regular council meeting.

Before the five-member council votes, city officials will count protest votes by customers who don’t want a possible increase on their monthly bills.

The letter — which was required to be sent out under state law — clearly states, “If a majority of the property owners file oppositions to the increase, the increase will not take effect.”

The water and wastewater increases in the proposal are capped at 3 percent annually over five years, based on indexing by the Engineering News Record 20-Cities Average Index. The council will also be looking at raising garbage rates based on the Consumer Price Index.

Additionally, the city is proposing to change the rate structure for residential and non-residential metered water usage.

At this point, only 30 percent of the city’s water customers are on the usage-based scale. But water meter installation for all customers will be completed by the end of fiscal year 2017-18, and all water and wastewater customers will be paying bills based on usage in fiscal year 2018-19, according to Public Works Director Wally Sandelin. In California, the fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.

If approved, the water rate changes will take effect on Feb. 15, wastewater rates will take effect on July 1 and garbage rates on April 1, according to the letter sent out by the city.

While the rate changes may be approved for up to 3 percent annually, that doesn’t mean that rate increases will be that high each year, Sandelin pointed out.

He noted that a water rate increase left over from the last five-year rate increase plan will only be 2.5 percent in January — if approved by the City Council as a separate agenda item on Dec. 18 — instead of the 3.3 percent previously approved.

The rate increases and fee structure changes are not for new capital projects, Sandelin said, but are to ensure the city has the ability to change rates if inflation forces costs up.

Sandelin said the water rate increases will help pay for installing water meters, well maintenance and replacing infrastructure as needed. It will also help the city pay the $2.3 million annual debt service for the city’s water plant, and may leave the city with $10 million to pay off related bonds in 2020, saving the city — and ratepayers — millions in interest payments.

It could also leave city council members looking at reducing rates for the five-year cycle that starts in fiscal year 2019-20.

The wastewater fees will go toward infrastructure replacement and the annual $3.5 million debt service payments on bonds taken out for upgrades at the White Slough Water Pollution Control Facility.

It will also help pay the $11.4 million cost for fixing and modernizing the irrigation system that feeds agricultural land at the White Slough Water Pollution Control Facility, Sandelin said, as well as building two storage ponds.

These improvements will help eliminate the city’s wastewater releases into the Delta, which will save Lodi money in monitoring and treatment costs, he said.

As stated in the letter sent out by the city, residents can stop the rate increases by lodging a protest vote with the city clerk.

Property owners or tenants who pay their own water, wastewater and garbage bills for a given property can mail a protest vote to the city, drop it off in person to the city clerk or bring it to the Dec. 18 hearing.

Sandelin said if both a tenant and an owner of a given property send in protest votes opposing the fee, only one vote will be counted for the given property.

For the protest vote to succeed, the total number of votes must be more than 50 percent of the total number of properties that will be affected by the rate increases. City Clerk Randi Johl will count the total number of protest votes submitted.

In the past, protest votes as required by the state for rate increases have not come anywhere near stopping a proposed rate increase, Sandelin said.

City records show that the last three protest votes brought in well under 2 percent each — a far cry from more than 50 percent needed.

In Oct. 2009, the total number of protest votes concerning proposed garbage rate increases was 391 out of 23,868 properties, or 1.6 percent.

In July 2009, the total number of protest votes concerning proposed water rate increases was 254 out of 34,565 properties, or 0.7 percent.

And in July 2010, the total number of protest votes concerning proposed wastewater rate increases was 52 out of 33,678, or 0.15 percent.

Contact reporter Todd Allen Wilson at toddw@lodinews.com.

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