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Lodi City Council wrestles with water meter billing

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Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 12:00 am

Catherine Brown lives in a Lodi apartment, and is dedicated to water conservation.

In recent years, she has purchased a low-flow toilet and a front-loading washing machine to reduce her water use. She keeps an eye out for neighboring properties who run too much water, or have leaky sprinkler heads.

But living in an apartment means sharing a water main with dozens of neighbors. The requirement to install water meters means sharing costs with those same neighbors.

"I don't think it's right that I should pay for someone else to flush a high-flow toilet. I don't think it's right that I should be asked to conserve when the neighbor next to me is blowing water out the kazoo. It's not fair; it's not equitable," she said heatedly. "You can't lump us all. We don't all use the same amount of water."

Brown's concerns reflect a larger issue facing the Lodi City Council. When a dozen homes get their water from the same pipe, watched by the same meter, who gets the short stick to sort out the complex billing process?

A Tuesday morning study session covered a variety of issues, including the longevity of a water meter and how to deal with vacant apartments or mobile home lots.

Most homes in Lodi work with a three-quarter inch water main. The cost of the installation varies, even though every homeowner was only charged $300. About 20 properties have larger pipes, including two mobile home parks with their own fire hydrants. The larger pipe is required by state law so enough water can flow for fire suppression.

One meter will work for 15 to 20 years before it starts to give bad readings. In vacant units, there will be no cost for water usage, but the base monthly charge will still apply. This goes for residential homes and apartments.

One billing issue raised contention among council members. Apartments complexes with swimming pools, common lawn areas or washing machines often have a separate water main for those uses that doesn't serve any tenants directly. But it would need to be metered.

Councilmember JoAnne Mounce said she could not understand the idea of not adding those water charges to tenants' bills.

"It's for the benefit of the tenant. They're enjoying the pool, they're enjoying the green grass. They're washing their clothes," she said.

Public Works Director Wally Sandelin gave his perspective on what may be a logical solution.

"My gut feeling is that we are going to have master meters. It will not be possible for us to install individual meters for each unit," he said.

In that case, the bill would go to the apartment owner or the homeowner's association to divvy up for payment.

Mounce wasn't content with that solution. The crux of California's water meter law is to create a monetary incentive for residents to use less water, she said. Adding a water meter that charges for every gallon encourages homeowners to also install low-flow showerheads, toilets and appliances.

"Where is the conservation incentive for an individual tenant when the homeowners association is paying the bill? I'm trying to wrap my head around the nonsense that is billing the property owners for this," she said.

In very few cases, Sandelin said, submeters could be installed by the apartment owner or mobile home park owner. For example, Sand Creek Apartments on South Mills Avenue paid to install 21 meters for 230 units last year. But they haven't yet decided how to bill each customer, since one meter covers several homes.

Sandelin recommended adding a water charge into the rent and charging by the unit. Another option is to charge a flat rate, then account for the difference in usage at the end of each year. But tenants come and go, and it might be impossible to find someone six months after moving out.

Several apartment dwellers and mobile home owners made their concerns known.

Dustin Totten, who owns several housing complexes in the area, requested that the city does not pass billing onto property owners.

"We're in the housing business. To put us in the water and waste business is going to raise costs. Keep billing in the city. Not to be rude, but that's kind of what us taxpayers pay you for. You're the water and waste merchants, and we're the consumers. I'm just hoping we can keep it that way," he said.

Ray Lunning, who has spent seven years in the Casa De Lodi mobile home park, suggested charging residents based on the number of people living in a home, not on the number of bedrooms.

"I want a real system that doesn't disproportionately charge senior citizens. Charge us a flat rate. We all know we use less water because we're naturally conservative," he said.

Nancy Watt of Ticknor Court encouraged the council to take their time with the decision, and to consider rebates for low-flow fixtures.

"I urge you to look at alternatives. Let's not rush into this. Let's get it right. Let Lodi be the star on the map that actually did it properly," she said.

Members of the council were divided on potential solutions.

Mounce suggested billing water charges quarterly so that even short-term tenants can be billed properly.

"I think it's obscene to say, 'Bill the property owner and they'll receive credit for the conservation tenants are doing,'" she said. "There are so many other ways to do it. We just can't get off the fact that this is the way the other cities do it. (Residents) should be reaping the benefit," she said.

But Councilman Bob Johnson said he doesn't want to linger over the decision.

"This choice could and should be made sooner rather than later. Pushing the problem on out while we do research isn't going to solve anything," he said.

Others insisted there was no other option.

"There's no way of providing incentive to apartment complexes to conserve water because they're on a mass meter. It comes down to the issue of, should the property owner be doing that or should the city do that?" said Councilman Larry Hansen.

The meeting was informational only. The council has not yet made a final decision on how to bill multiple home properties.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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  • Doug Chaney posted at 10:31 am on Mon, Apr 1, 2013.

    advocate Posts: 499

    One thing will be for sure, Mr. Morgan, you will be paying that minimum fee, $28 I believe, as soon as you are connected and billed. That will be the minimum "service" charge for water and your sewer and wastewater will probably be based on your water consumption as well.

  • Doug Chaney posted at 3:47 pm on Sun, Mar 31, 2013.

    advocate Posts: 499

    Why not legislate every unit to have a water meter? Living between NYC and Lodi from 2002-2008 and owning a 4 level brownstone in Brooklyn, which was inherited from my mother-in-law and having four water meters, four gas meters and five electric meters, which is typical in NYC, a city of ten million or so, and requiring water, electric and gas meters in every unit of multiple family dwellings only tells me that the city of Lodi is just looking for an easy way out to pawn the responsibility off on the investors/landlords/management companies/slumlords of those multi family units and I'd see the same scenario arising with the electric meters a few short years back with some of those slumlords in the mobile home parks and apartments charging their tenants more than the cost of electricity each month and pocketing the excess for themselves. When the Lodi city council again swept it under the rug as an "honest" mistake and let those who were using the shady practice loose for another day. I received monthly billings for units that weren't being rented/leased and my tenants received their own utility bills, each of which detailed their usage for each particular utility. I also was informed if there were any large discrepancies from their billings each billing period so I was able to who was wasting according to the number of tenants in each unit or if there were drips or leaks or faulty wiring or meters that needed to be taken care of. I use this as only an example to stress the importance of a metering system for every unit no matter how big or how small the property. That's how real cities and towns base their conservation measures on, not on a "group" plan like insurance where everyone pays the same price no matter how much they use. I think the city of Lodi completely misses the point of mandating water meters, or any metering system for paid utilities, by exempting any one group, good old boys or not. And why would the water be based on the number of bedrooms rather than the number of occupants or even number of bathrooms, which also account for the waste water charge on your utility bill in Lodi? Who ever the lame brain was that based it on the number of bedrooms should have been questioned a long time ago. Now this stuck in the fifties council, led by the three amigos, Johnson, Katzakian and Hansen, will have another opportunity to again use their three yes votes to let the investors/slumlords off the hook again, IMO. If the city of Lodi can do the billing and accounting for Waste Management and their overpriced garbage service, which will go up again this month or next with calculations taken from the bay area indexes, not Lodi, and charge them a peanuts fee for city staff to do their bookkeeping for them, then they can surely handle their own water meter billing that includes a metering device for each separate unit, large or small. If not, let Waste Management collect their own debts and do their own billing as they do nearly everywhere else they do business.

  • Josh Morgan posted at 2:16 pm on Wed, Mar 27, 2013.

    Josh Morgan Posts: 529

    Water meters were the pet project of former council member Hitchcock and when the State came out with their mandate it became an excuse to proceed full steam ahead. All of these issues should have been worked out prior to the decision to proceed. And we all know what can happen at the State level between now and 2025. Heck, the mandate might not even be around. We have also been told that with the installation of meters that it would be "revenue neutral". In other words, the money generated prior to the installation would be the same. Some people would pay more and others will pay less. I'd sure like to hear from those households that are paying less after the installation of their meter.

  • Raymond Cook posted at 12:10 pm on Wed, Mar 27, 2013.

    Lodi Resident Posts: 25

    Digging deep into our pockets years sooner than the deadline is called "Fleecing the Sheep and smiling all the way to the bank!

  • roy bitz posted at 11:24 am on Wed, Mar 27, 2013.

    roy bitz Posts: 489

    The state mandated water meters be installed by 2025 so we are way ahead of the mandate time line. Why the rush?
    I believe this council accelerated the State mandate in order to enhance the city's revenue stream and to help fund a pet project--- the surface water treatment plant.
    This project is costing city rate payers some five million dollars a year--- every year --for at least forty years. The sad truth is, two hundred million dollar project will do almost nothing toward conservation of the ground water over draft.
    Back to water meter installation issues:
    Mr. Sandlin states " it will not be possible for us to install individual water meters".
    Why not?
    Ms Mounce states " there are so many other ways to do it". Please tell us how?
    Mr. Johnson states "pushing the problem on out while we do research isn't going to solve anything". I believe this years old issue has been researched but the findings do not support what some council members want.

  • Raymond Cook posted at 10:01 am on Wed, Mar 27, 2013.

    Lodi Resident Posts: 25

    I agree with Doug!

    Next they will be billing apartment dwellers for their Electricity, and gas, maybe even the air we breathe, after all, we need to conserve our air due to pollution and smokers!

    Plus the worst Scenereo os the LANDLORD says the WATER Bill came to this and it wasn't that amount at all. He just padded the bill for his share of the $$$$$! City Hall, or cat got yer tongue?

    Where is the checks and balances

  • Raymond Cook posted at 9:56 am on Wed, Mar 27, 2013.

    Lodi Resident Posts: 25

    All of these "Eastside Apartments loaded with 'Soon-To-Be U.S. Citizens," who waste hundreds of gallons of water and the rest of us get BILLED for their waste, why should we (ALL) pay higher monthly water bills because they don't care? What about ther one idiot who (Intentionally) flushes his toilet 1,000 times as he laughs, knowing everyone will have a higher water bill just because he has mental problems or is a drug addict or alcoholic?

    Pay for actual (USE) rather then the City of Lodi being Greedy for the $$$$$ is the correct answer, which they refuse to follow because that would mean less $$$$$ in the City coffers to cover their UNION pension funds.
    Maybe Doug has the answer we all seek?

  • Doug Elk posted at 7:31 am on Wed, Mar 27, 2013.

    Doug Elk Posts: 8

    I cannot believe there is even a discussion about this. You do not group bill people for gas or electricity; why on earth would you ever consider doing it for water? What about the person that works out of town and is only home on weekends? Should that person pay for the water that the apartment next door that has four people living there full time? Billing the property owner is also ridiculous!
    “Bob Johnson said he doesn't want to linger over the decision.”
    "This choice could and should be made sooner rather than later. Pushing the problem on out while we do research isn't going to solve anything," he said.
    WHAT??? Do your job! Do it right!



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