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Council Approves Sewer Rate Hikes
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It wasn’t received with applause – but the Escalon City Council took a step that no other council has taken in more than 20 years.

They approved a plan that will see wastewater (sewer) rates for the city’s domestic and industrial users jump, some significantly, over the next several years. The action came at the Tuesday, Jan. 19 city council meeting, after a roughly half-hour long discussion and review of an updated Wastewater Rate Study performed by Hansford Economic Consulting.

Some audience members urged the council to hold off a little longer, but the council was in general agreement that since no increase had been authorized in nearly a quarter century, the time to act had come.

Based on the report accepted by the council, the city’s two largest industrial users will see the biggest jump in their costs to utilize the wastewater treatment plant.

The current baes monthly rate for Eckert Cold Storage is $7,852.93 and that will rise to $9,271.92 as of Feb. 1, jumping to $9,570.84 as of Aug. 1 of this year. Then increases would come each Aug. 1, with a high of $11,388.25 reached by August of 2020.

Variable charges will be added as well, based on flow and what type of material is being discharged to the plant.

Escalon Premier Brands has a current monthly base charge of $22,400.65. That will increase to $24,338.79 under the new rates, as of Feb. 1. The Aug. 1 rate will be $25,123.45 and then it will increase each August, up to $29,894.16 by 2020.

Industrial customers were in attendance at the Jan. 19 council meeting and an attorney representing one asked the council to delay action until they had a chance to thoroughly review the numbers – which were different, though lower – than rates originally proposed a few months ago.

“That was based on our meetings with them,” City Manager Tammy Alcantor said of seeing some reduction in fees for the industrial users, with several meetings between the two sides over the last couple of months.

She noted that the revised report had been provided to them on Jan. 14, a few days ahead of the Jan. 19 session.

Council members opted to enact the new rates, by a 4-0 vote, with councilman Jeff Laugero absent. They will take effect in February.

Residential rates will also rise, and there will be changes in costs for schools, hotel and motels. A residential flat bi-monthly charge will rise to $48.46 as of Feb. 15 this year, up to $67.12 in August and then go up each Aug. 15 through 2020, topping out at $69.96.

“The City last adopted domestic wastewater rates in May 1991 and rates were last increased in May 1992. Since 1992, the costs of operating the wastewater system have escalated but revenues have not,” noted the final report prepared by Hansford Economic Consulting. “As a result, the level of service to operate the wastewater system has suffered and maintenance of facilities has fallen significantly behind. The City’s Cease and Desist Order in December 2014 was a direct result of the lack of revenues in the wastewater enterprise fund. While all deadlines have been met for making improvements per the Cease and Desist Order (with the exception of one item for the domestic system which will be complete within this fiscal year), the cost of the associated improvements has left the wastewater enterprise fund in a very weak financial position.

“The City also needs to complete several other capital improvement projects over the next few years. These costs, combined with increased operations and maintenance costs and the need to build a reserve for replacement of assets and/or emergency repairs, is driving the need for wastewater rate increases.”

Alcantor added that the rates approved by the council are the “highest they can go” and there is always a chance that the rates will be lower than projected.

The main goal for increasing in the rates is to make sure the wastewater treatment plant becomes a self-sustaining operation.