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Council looks at water rate increase
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Higher water rates could soon face Turlock residents, according to a City of Turlock report.
This year, water expenses will exceed revenues by $780,000.
The imbalance comes due in large part to the implementation of meter-based billing in 2010. The system was projected to reduce revenues by as much as $965,000 per year, but the true loss in revenues has been closer to $1.5 million annually.
Water rates have remained flat since July 1, 2008. A rate increase was proposed in 2009 to ensure the transition to meter-based billing, but was denied by council.
The need for a rate increase was revealed as part of a three-year strategic plan for the City of Turlock Municipal Services Department, expected to be approved by the Turlock City Council on Tuesday. The plan outlines municipal infrastructure, department budgeting, regional efforts, and staffing for the next three years.
Water rates could rise further, due to the need for a surface water treatment plant to meet Turlock's drinking water demand in the coming years. By 2018, Turlock is projected to use groundwater more quickly than it replenishes, leading to concerns regarding water quality and availability.
A surface water treatment plant would likely cost Turlock $85 million, but would provide enough water to supply half of Turlock's demand. The plant would likely be constructed by Turlock in partnership with Modesto and Ceres, treating Turlock Irrigation District-controlled water from the Tuolumne River near Hughson.
Some of the $85 million cost borne by Turlock would likely come from state and federal grants, but a rate increase of some fashion may be unavoidable.
The Municipal Services strategic plan also addresses the cost of operating Turlock's 4,200 streetlights, which were previously funded by sales tax on gasoline sales. The state has gradually withheld more of that funding, and Turlock must now spend hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to keep the lights on. At one point, Turlock discussed turning off streetlights to balance the budget,
In hopes of reducing its expense, the City of Turlock used federal stimulus funds to retrofit 1,800 streetlights with energy efficient induction lamps in 2009, saving about $85,000 annually. A 2011 effort to retrofit a further 2,000 streetlights would further reduce energy usage, but the Turlock Irrigation District may not reduce the city's rate despite using less electricity.

On Tuesday, the Turlock City Council is also expected to:
• Finalize the City's General Plan, a growth plan governing the next 20 years of Turlock's expansion.
The Turlock City Council on Sept. 11 endorsed a plan which would see Turlock grow to only three new master planned neighborhoods to the city's southeast. Additionally, the 105,000 resident plan could only be built out gradually; city's borders would not expand until the first Southeast Master Plan, the Northeast Master Plan, and the East Tuolumne Master Plan reach a combined 70 percent build-out.
For two years, planners studied a larger growth plan, capable of accommodating 126,800 residents, which would have seen Turlock grow to include five new southeastern neighborhoods, as well as one northwest of Highway 99. That plan saw prior endorsement from the council, but was rejected Sept. 11 as being too costly, and using too much farmland - 1,950 acres, compared to 1,015 used in the smaller plan.
Due to the unexpected change in plans, staff did not have the appropriate documents prepared to approve the smaller growth plan on Sept. 11. Final approval, the conclusion of a two-plus year planning process, is expected Tuesday.
• Present Turlock Journal reporter Alex Cantatore with the American Planning Association's California Chapter Central Section Individual Journalist Award. The award recognizes Cantatore's outstanding reporting on planning and land use issues in Turlock.
• Proclaim October 2012 as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
• Receive a special briefing on California State University, Stanislaus from Associated Students Inc. Governmental Affairs Administrator Tomara Hall.
• Conference with labor negotiators in closed session

The Turlock City Council will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Yosemite Room of Turlock City Hall, 156 S. Broadway.