Tuesday night’s Escalon City Council meeting could see a sizeable crowd turn out … since the main item on the agenda could pave the way for a sizeable increase in the city’s wastewater rates.
Due to the observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday, Jan. 18 – when city offices will be closed – the council meeting has been moved to Tuesday, Jan. 19. The top item on the agenda will be a public hearing on the proposed increases in the city’s wastewater (sewer) rates. They have not been raised since 1992.
“We will have a public hearing on the rates, an account of any protest and, absent of a majority protest, staff will ask council to pass the resolution increasing the wastewater rates,” explained City Manager Tammy Alcantor.
At an initial hearing on the proposed rates in late October, council members told those attending the session that the increases were necessary and long overdue. Industrial customers Escalon Premier Brands and Eckert Cold Storage both had representatives at that meeting, concerned about the steep increases proposed in the long-range plan.
Alcantor said since then, some modifications have been made to the rate structure for industrial users, when new information became available through the budgeting process. Rates will not go as high as originally proposed, the industrial customers seeing a slight decrease from the initial projections.
Still, the rates will rise for all users in the city – residential, commercial and industrial – in a plan that stretches out over several years.
Hansford Economic Consulting prepared the rate study and Alcantor said the newly revised report has been posted on the city’s website. The 63-page document can be accessed there, at cityofescalon.org.
Alcantor added that previous studies by the city to consider raising sewer rates never panned out, and they haven’t gone up in nearly a quarter-century. Increases are necessary to upgrade and maintain the system, as well as to make it a self-sustaining operation.
Because of the timing of the Prop 218 notices that went out following the hearing, Alcantor said another change in the proposal is when the new rates would take effect. Residential customers would see the first increase in their May 2016 bill; with the new rates taking effect on Feb. 1.
Industrial customers, billed monthly, would still see the first increase in February.
The rates are scheduled to increase each year over the next several years, from 2016 through 2020.
Currently, residential customers 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 February, 2016 with additional increases each year 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 wastewater treatment plant and other factors.
“I would anticipate some protests, yes, because as it is with any rate increase, it’s never easy,” Alcantor said of expecting a crowd to turn out for the 7 p.m. meeting on Tuesday in the council chambers on McHenry Avenue. “Unfortunately it is something that needs to be done, that doesn’t mean it is appreciated; it’s not pleasant for anybody involved.”
Alcantor said there have been questions from time to time regarding the proposals since they were first unveiled in October. She also has a meeting scheduled this week with representatives of some churches in the community regarding changes to their rates as commercial users.
In other business set for the Jan. 19 meeting, council members will review some text amendments regarding plan development in the downtown area.