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City of Galt admits to falling behind in installation of new water meters

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Posted: Friday, February 24, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:18 am, Fri Feb 24, 2012.

Due to staffing changes and previous city council decisions, Galt has fallen behind in installing water meters citywide, but officials are certain they will meet a state mandate by 2024.

Meanwhile, Lodi has forged ahead with the process, installed most of their meters and has already begun charging some customers a water-usage rate.

Both cities are required by the state to begin charging all customers using water meters by 2024.

"We are behind. I can't hide that," Interim Public Works Director Richard Prima said this week, adding that he's not certain the city will able to solicit bids for installation and accept them quickly enough to forge ahead with a previously planned summertime installation.

Part of the reason the installation is taking so long could be attributed to turnover, but the turnover is relatively recent and doesn't explain much of the delay, City Manager Jason Behrmann said.

Public Works Director Gregg Halladay was dismissed last year, and the two city engineers, like Prima, are interim. The city has not been able to hire a full-time permanent director.

"It really comes down to city priorities," Behrmann said, listing a number of large public works projects recently completed or under construction including the Central Galt Interchange Project, Walker Park, wastewater treatment plant upgrades and the Twin Cities roundabouts.

"We just have not had time to move the water meters forward as quickly as we would have liked. There is no penalty for not installing the water meters at this time, so other projects have taken priority."

Galt has already collected approximately $1.6 million from residential developers to pay for future water meters.

Some have questioned whether a portion of redevelopment funding should go to pay for water meter installation in the redevelopment area, especially for the elderly and low-income residents. It's an option Behrmann said is legally debatable.

Not only is City Attorney Steve Rudolph unaware of any other redevelopment agency that has used redevelopment funds for this purpose, but the city council was more in favor of using the money to pay for projects that would improve the entire community, according to Behrmann.

"It is hard to see how the installation of residential water meters would contribute to the elimination of blight," he said.

Although the city's redevelopment agency was dissolved under a state Supreme Court ruling, officials decided to move forward with projects already in the pipeline.

Mayor Barbara Payne pointed out that one of the main functions of redevelopment funds is to increase property value so the tax increment will pay for the investment, which means it should not go toward residential property in the Old Town area.

"I hope the city will be able to look at ways to help the installation of water meters in the older sections of town when the time comes," she said.

Behrmann previously said citywide water meter installation, commonly known as "phase one," could begin this summer when the rainy season is over — but Prima isn't so sure.

"I wouldn't promise it," Prima said, pointing out that the department is currently in the throes of working on the 2012-13 city budget.

In Lodi, a contractor hired by the city began installing water meters in July and had put in 3,900 meters on single-family homes by November. The work is part of a seven-year plan to install 13,174 water meters and replace 25.4 miles of water pipelines.

Those meters — plus a number on homes built after 1992 — are currently being read and customers will begin receiving usage-based utility bills in January and phased in each year after that, according to Public Works Director Wally Sandelin.

The $300 fee was billed to property owners. It covers the purchase price of the meter, register, radio transmitter, concrete box and lid with a little left over for installation.

The infrastructure costs were absorbed by the city, Sandelin said.

But Prima said Galt is not in a financial position to do that at this time.

Only about 500 meters have been installed in Galt since 2005, when the city opted for developers to do the work instead of paying for future installation. Those customers are being charged based on their usage, according to Behrmann.

"I have no doubts that we will be able to complete all of the water meter installations by 2024," he said, adding that the city is working to identify a funding source. "We have time to come up with a reasonable financing plan that we allow us to minimize the financial impacts to residents. We are hopeful that we will be able to identify grants or other funding sources to help offset the impact."

While phase one is in the beginning phases, Behrmann said the City Council has yet to determine how it is going to deal with phase two. "But we have 12 years to figure it out," he said.

Payne is anxious to move forward with installing the water meters and hopes it will be on a new director's list of top priorities, she said.

"For people to pay for what they use, only makes sense," she said. "Availability of good water is something we should not take for granted."

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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