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Lodi to mail notifications for proposed water rate increase

New public hearing for proposed rate changes to be held April 16

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Posted: Thursday, February 20, 2014 12:00 am

Lodi residents and business owners will receive an explanation of Proposition 218, as well as a notice regarding the city’s proposed water rate increase, but not with their bills.

On Wednesday night, the Lodi City Council directed the city’s Public Works Department staff to send the eight-page notices separately from their water bills, the process the city had been using in the past.

At a Dec. 19, 2013, meeting, the council directed city staff to include Proposition 218 notices in utility bills along with a letter of explanation from the Public Works Department in both English and Spanish.

Proposition 218 requires local governments to give property owners the opportunity to vote on any new or increased assessment before it is approved.

The direction was given after Public Works Director Wally Sandelin informed the council that a computer error excluded about 1,300 letters out of 20,000 from being sent to residents in October.

In addition, many Spanish-speaking residents attended the Dec. 19 meeting, explaining that they did not understand the water rate increase or Proposition 218 because the October notices were only in English.

The letter explained that the rates for water and wastewater could increase by as much as 3 percent over the next five years and would take effect Jan. 1, 2014. The actual percentage the rates would increase would be decided by the council each year.

Both the English and Spanish notices are four double-sided pages in length, and are 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 that it will mismatch an unknown number of bills with addresses unless windowed envelopes are used.

City staff said previous separate notices cost only 49 cents to each customer.

Staff said it would cost only $24,500 to mail the notices separately, while it would cost about $150,000 to mail the notices with utility bills.

Residents and business owners will then be able to submit written protests before an April 16 public hearing. Protests submitted before the Dec. 19 meeting will be counted with the new ones.

Councilwoman JoAnne Mounce said she appreciated staff’s effort to make the notice and protest process easier. However, she said the letter that staff had prepared did not seem easy for residents to understand.

She said it also did not grab a reader’s attention and drive home the notion they need to mail in their protest if they had one.

“I want to make sure we do this in a manner that makes it easier for our citizens to weigh in if they want to,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve really accomplished that here, even though this is much better than our last attempt.”

Mounce suggested explaining the protest process in layman’s terms in one paragraph at the top of the letter followed by the current “legalese” used in the letter, in smaller print below.

Vice Mayor Larry Hansen said he would not support including the letters and notifications with water bills when it would cost more than five times the regular mailing price.

However, he also didn’t support rewording the notices, as it would only further delay the public hearing to discuss the increases.

“I don’t know how many times you can tweak this,” he said. “This needs to go out. People need to see them and be able to respond before we have our meeting.”

A public hearing to discuss the increase is set for April 16 at Carnegie Forum, 305 W. Pine St. The council meeting will begin at 7 p.m. that night. If increases are approved, they will take effect retroactively to the original Jan. 1 date.

Contact reporter Wes Bowers at wesb@lodinews.com.

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