In action at their Monday night, Nov. 2 council meeting, Escalon City Council members accepted the report on proposed increases to the city’s wastewater (sewer) fees. That, following an informational meeting on the plan on Oct. 26, in which a handful of residents and representatives of the city’s two industrial customers spoke out regarding concerns with the dramatic fee increases proposed.
“We will start with sending out the Prop. 218 notices,” City Manager Tammy Alcantor said of the next step in the process to enact the rate hikes. “Prop 218 notices will go out to all affected property owners notifying them of the possible increase to the sewer rates. The notice will include information on how to protest the rates and that the public hearing will be held on Jan. 19, 2016.”
Council members and city officials noted that while no one wants fees to increase, there is no way around it. Rates haven’t changed in more than two decades and the lack of revenue has seen deterioration of facilities due to lack of maintenance. The city has already had to deal with a Cease and Desist order because of the operational issues at the treatment plant.
Alcantor said residents will have ample opportunity to protest the rate hikes and the proposed fees are the highest the council could enact. They could also lower the rates.
“At the (January) public hearing, providing there is not a majority protest, the Council will vote on adopting the rates,” Alcantor said.
A few in attendance at the Monday night meeting spoke about the proposed rates, she added, including some that attended the previous workshop.
Hansford Economic Consulting prepared the rate study that was accepted by the council. Alcantor said previous studies by the city to consider raising sewer rates never panned out, and they haven’t gone up since 1992.
Rate hikes proposed are designed to make the wastewater system in the city self-sufficient and – if approved – have their first increase in January 2016 with subsequent raises each July for the next several years.
Residential customers now pay a flat fee of $22.64 bi-monthly (every two months), the same rate that has been in effect since 1992. Under the proposed plan, that would increase to $48.86 in January, 2016, with additional increases each July through 2020, up to a bi-monthly fee of $69.96.
Industrial users have a base charge and a monthly debt service charge, in addition to variable charges based on what type of material they are sending to the treatment plant and other factors. The study shows Escalon Premier Brands with a monthly base charge now of $22,400.65 and a debt service charge of $4,215 per month. Under the first hike, in January, their costs would rise to $34,099.75 for their base charge monthly and the debt service would more than double, to $10,968.53.
Eckert Cold Storage, with a base charge now of $7,852.93 and a debt service charge of $647, would see their rates increase to $12,990.38 for the base charge and $2,605.53 for the monthly debt service charge. The debt service for both Eckert and Escalon Premier Brands would remain steady over the next five years, but the base charge would rise each July.
In other business at the Monday meeting, council members authorized Alcantor to start the conceptual design of the existing Hogan-Ennis Park adjacent to the community center and the new 19.2 acres purchased there for expansion.
“We will be reviewing the layout of the existing park and the future park. Items to be addressed include additional baseball or soccer fields, parking issues, and designation of space for the skateboard park,” said Alcantor. “On the park design/layout we will be holding some public meetings to get input also.”
Those meetings will be announced at a later date.