By the end of the public hearing on proposed water rate increases, the City of Turlock had received 715 protest ballots — approximately 8,785 protests short of what was needed to stop the City Council in moving forward with a plan that will see customers’ bills almost double over the next five years.
With the protest failing under Prop. 218 mandates, the City Council voted 4-0 — with Council member Amy Bublak absent — to adopt the new water rate schedule.
Under the new rate structure, a single family currently paying $36 a month for water is projected to pay $42 a month starting in March 2018, $49 a month in 2019, $57 in 2020, $67 in 2021 and $79 in 2022. The new rate includes a $25-month service fee for the typical single-family home, which covers the cost of securing the water source and delivering it to the customer.
The rate increases will go to treat the City’s current groundwater wells and help fund a new surface water treatment plant.
Currently, 100 percent of the City of Turlock’s drinking water supply comes from groundwater. However, the drinking water supply is declining, contaminant levels are increasing and groundwater quality regulations have become more stringent.
For the past 30 years, the City has been working on securing an alternate source of water — treated surface water from the Tuolumne River. Recently, the Cities of Turlock and Ceres, as members of the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority, have started the process of building a plant to deliver treated Tuolumne River water to homes by 2022.
Both Ceres and Turlock will blend the new source of water with treated groundwater. Turlock will receive up to 10 mgd while Ceres has a claim of 5 mgd. Construction of the plant will cost $288 million, with Turlock paying $182 million and Ceres $100 million. To cover expenses, both cities needed to raise water rates.
The public hearing saw a number of members of the community express their opposition to the rate increase. Many objected to the financial burden the rate increases will have on the communities’ poorest residents.
“This would be a hardship on myself and other family members of mine,” Delinda Delacruz told the Council on Tuesday.
Delacruz said she went door to door Monday night, with her niece as a Spanish language translator, talking to people about the proposed rate increases and if they wanted to protest it. She collected 38 protests, which she turned in to the City Clerk on Tuesday night.
Former Council member Ron Hillberg said he thinks the City Council hasn’t investigated all their options for a reliable source of water.
Hillberg suggested that instead of building a 7-mile pipeline from Turlock to the Hughson site of the surface water treatment plant, the City should consider taking water from the Turlock Irrigation District canals running through town. He suggested buying water from TID and using it to recharge the groundwater.
“Quite a few years ago when I served on this Council, I made every effort to postpone this project because I didn’t believe it was in the best interest in the City of Turlock or its citizens. It still isn’t,” he said.
Turlock resident Milt Trieweiler protested the uniform rate structure of the five-year increases.
“The tiered-rate schedule is a much more equitable and just rate schedule for low-income families and seniors,” he said.
He also objected to the burden on single-family users, which will see a 205 percent increase in their bills over the next five years as opposed to business and industrial users, which will only increase 137 percent over the same time period.
“This is a tough one for me…I don’t want to pay more for water. I don’t want my rates to go up…I can make a pair of shoes last six, seven years, but I can’t do without water. I need water, I need it every day…And all the issues I’ve heard tonight, I know, I agree, but unfortunately, I feel that all the research that has been done, I don’t see a viable alternative… In my opinion, if we put this off longer it’s just going to cost more,” said Council member Gil Esquer.
Other Council members echoed Esquer’s comments on the difficulty of the decision to approve the rate increases.
“We don’t want to become the next Flint, Michigan. We need to invest; it’s an investment for our future, for the 50 years of Turlock residents…I think this is a prudent investment in the future. But I need everybody here to continue to hold not just this Council, but future Councils, accountable,” said Vice Mayor Matthew Jacob.
“We have the needs of the entire community to uphold with this,” said Council member Bill DeHart.
“The system that we have right now isn’t sustainable under current practices. We, ourselves, must make decisions as a community. This has been very healthy this evening to hear and to understand not only where it hurts and where the pain is, but to also understand further what some of the issues are for people,” DeHart continued.