Following months of preparing for the proposed water rate increases in Turlock, the City Council will be discussing the increases at length during their Tuesday meeting during a public hearing where community residents are encouraged to voice any questions or concerns on the matter.
Holding public workshops on the changes over the past few months, in addition to sending out information on the changes in residents' water bills, City staff will update the Council on the proposed rate increases that are set to take place over a five year period. During the meeting, council members will decide whether or not to accept the results of the residential notification process, as required by Prop 218, for the consideration of the increased monthly water fees, with the new charges being effective July 1.
According to the City, Prop 218 mandates the notification of the affected property owners of any proposed increase in fees charge for property related services such as water. On Dec. 10, 2013, the Council voted unanimously to authorize staff to begin notifying the public of the proposed rate increases, while establishing a public hearing for March 25. The notification was performed on Jan. 29 via water bills, approximately 56 days prior to the public hearing as required by law.
Additionally, three public workshops on the matter were held in February with the individual workshops focusing on rates for industrial use, schools, church and large landscape customers, and the general public.
As part of the notification process, Turlock residents were provided with protest ballots which will continue to be accepted until the conclusion of the public hearing. At the end of the hearing, the protest ballots will be counted and presented to the City Council for consideration. Under Prop 218, the City Council may not impose any new water fees and charges should the written protests represent a majority of the parcels affected. For Turlock specifically, the Council would have to receive 8,771 parcels for the City to not be able to impose any new fees.
Director of Municipal Services Michael Cooke shared during the public workshop held in February that the purpose of the rate increase for the fees and charges is to ensure future revenues meet the projected expenditures in the City's Water Enterprise Fund. Such expenditures include operations and maintenance costs, future capital costs related to improving water quality and supply, and existing debt service obligations. Although the City has made reductions in operations and capital expenses, a structural deficit remains in the City's water fund after the City saw a decline in revenue, while also making necessary improvements to the water system such as new wells, water storage tanks and installing water meters. While the City relied on $560,000 in 2011-12 from the rate stabilization reserve to meet its minimum debt coverage requirements, City staff have stressed that such deficit spending is not sustainable in the long term and may adversely impact the credit rating of the City's Water Enterprise Fund.
Aside from covering structural deficits, operations and capital expenses, the proposed new rate structure is said to conserve water - an important proponent as California's three-year drought worsens. By charging customers for the amount of actual water used as opposed to a flat rate, consultant Tom Pavletic of Municipal Financial Services says that the City will see a direct correlation between the percent increase in a customer's bill and the decrease in their monthly water usage that will result from the new rate structure. The current structure, which provides customers with a minimum allotment of approximately 20,600 gallons for a minimum charge of $24.05, can encourage overuse at times while not allowing customers to fully benefit from water conservation measures, says city staff.
The proposed changes would see six rate increases take place over the next 5 years, with the first increase taking effect July 1. The second increase is scheduled for Jan. 1, 2015, with the remaining increases occurring annually thereafter until 2019.
Compiled of three primary charges, the initial proposed rate structure in July would charge a single/multi-family residency a commodity charge of 48 cents per 1,000 gallons, a capacity charge of $17.50 a month, and a customer charge of $2.20 per month. Cooke says that the capacity charge, which varies by meter size, recovers approximately 60 percent of revenues, while the commodity charges, which include three different groups of customer classes, recover approximately 34 percent. The remaining 6 percent of revenues is recovered by the customer charge.
According to City staff, who has extensively reviewed average monthly water use patterns by singe/multi-family residences, the average residential bill is estimated to be approximately $26.90 per month under the first proposed increased - a 12 percent increase from the current structure. The second increase would see a 15 percent increase under the same usage patterns, a 7 percent increase in 2016, a 15 percent increase in 2017, and an additional 11 percent increase in both 2018 and 2019. Using these water usage patterns alongside the proposed rate increases, the average residential bill is estimated to be approximately $47.10 per month by the final increase in 2019.
Although the City Council could opt to not proceed with the increases for water fees and charges regardless of the protest ballots, City staff is not recommending this option as the proposed increases will result in an economic benefit while having a sustainable water supply that complies with all state and federal water quality standards.
On Tuesday, the City Council is also expected to:
• Consider combining the Arts Commission and Parks, Recreation and Community Programs Commission into a single advisory commission consisting of nine members made up of all current commissioners;
• Authorize a new Public Safety Business Analyst job description within the Turlock Police Department and hire one person for the position through an in-house recruitment of full-time, part-time and volunteer/intern staff, with no priority given, and outside recruitment if needed;
• Receive the 2013 Police Annual Report from Police Chief Rob Jackson, where the Council and public will be updated on safety concerns, crime rates, police vacancies, improvements to the department, number of arrests and other areas specific to public safety.
The City Council meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall, located at 156 S. Broadway Avenue. Residents wishing to submit Protest Ballots on the water rate increase are encouraged to attend, as ballots will no longer be accepted following the end of the public hearing.