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Water troubles back on City Council agenda
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After a two-month delay, a study which could result in increased water rates is back before the Turlock City Council.
On Tuesday, the Turlock City Council will consider hiring a consultant to conduct a water rate study, which will likely lead to higher rates to counteract large, ongoing deficits.
Council initially considered authorizing the study at its Nov. 13, 2012 meeting. But Councilwoman Amy Bublak requested a vote on the study be delayed until after Steven Nascimento, elected to council on Nov. 6, was seated.
"These are going to be big decisions," Bublak said at the time. "He can't say anything, he's sitting out there (in the audience). I'd recommend that we wait."
Turlock's water revenues have fallen sharply since a state-mandated conversion to metered billing in January 2010. This fiscal year alone, Turlock's water fund is expected to lose $780,000.
City staff recommended Turlock raise rates in 2009, in anticipation of the switch to metered rates, but council members at the time opted to adopt a "wait and see" approach. With two years of data, the costs of metered billing became clear: Turlock's revenues have declined $1.5 million annually.
The deficits can be attributed both to decreased water usage, and lower rates paid by the average consumer. In Turlock, residents now pay $25.54 for 22,000 gallons per month, plus additional charges for usage beyond that mark. By comparison, Modesto residents pay $50.99 for the same amount of water, while Tracy residents pay $71.28.
Raising rates enough to cover the deficit may not be enough. Turlock is in the midst of negotiations to build an $85 million Regional Surface Water Supply Project, a proposed drinking water plant to be operated in partnership with Modesto and Ceres, treating Turlock Irrigation District-controlled water from the Tuolumne River near Hughson. Without the plant, Turlock is projected to overdraw groundwater resources starting in 2018.
Should council approve the rate study, the consultant is expected to return to council with a proposal in three to four months.

On Tuesday, the Turlock City Council is also expected to:
• Consider extending the Turlock Partnership Incentives Program, which offers businesses $1,000 for opening up shop in a vacant storefront and drafting a business plan.
Already, the program is near using up the $15,000 budgeted for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, with 13 participating businesses thus far. The extension would grant another $15,000 to the program.
• Appoint a new Vice Mayor. The vice mayor is selected from among existing council members, serving rotating one-year terms.
Amy Bublak is the current Vice Mayor; based on seniority, either Forrest White or Bill DeHart is likely to be appointed.
• Appoint members to the Turlock Planning Commission, filling two vacancies. Incumbents Jeanine Bean and Soraya Fregosi are likely to be reappointed, though Anoheen Varani, office manager at the Dental Spa, also applied to join.
• Appoint members to the Turlock Parks, Recreation, and Community Programs Commission. Incumbents Mike Dowd and Richard Salinas have applied for reappointment.
A third vacancy, created when Steven Nascimento was elected to the Turlock City Council in November, will likely be filled by Jeremy Rocha, a California State University, Stanislaus student who unsuccessfully ran for Council in 2006 and 2010.
• Appoint Sergio Alvarado to a vacant alternate seat on the Turlock City Arts Commission. Alvarado is a postal service employee who unsuccessfully ran for council in 2012.
• Name council members to serve on The Alliance, the Stanislaus County Council of Governments, the League of California Cities Central Valley Division Executive Committee, the Regional Surface Water Supply Project Advisory Committee, the City of Turlock/Turlock Unified School District Joint Meetings, and the Stanislaus County Economic Development Action Committee.
• Hear staff updates on board, commission, and committee vacancies, and on capital projects and building activity.
The Turlock City Council is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Yosemite Room of Turlock City Hall, 156 S. Broadway.