By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
More project than cash
Placeholder Image
Ceres city officials have a new five-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP) which ties in with the City Council's strategic vision for the future. The problem is that it is $34 million shy of funding.

The plan was approved Monday, outlining over 100 "wish list" projects, many of which call for expanding water and sewer infrastructure. All of the projects were selected to improve the standard of living in the community as well as spurring economic development.

The council adopted a five-year CIP last year but modify it each year. The new CIP has 23 new projects. At least 53 projects are active from last year. Last year's CIP was $11 million underfunded.

City Manager Brad Kilger said the CIP covers needs for streets, buildings, equipment, parks, and sewer, storm drain, traffic and water system upgrades. He cautioned that the CIP is only a guide and planning tool. Some of the projects included in the CIP will take much longer than five years, such as two additional fire stations.

The priority of the CIP is for improvements to the water delivery system. The water system is aging and some older lines need replacement. At least two new water reservoirs are needed to boost water pressure, he said.

City leaders are faced with addressing the water and sewer rates to help fund the CIP. The report indicates that presently the city is operating the water system at a deficit of $600,000 per year. Once the city makes capital improvements this year, the deficit will climb to $1.3 million.

Rates will need to be increased significantly to make up for the shortfall, as well help pay for participation with the surface water system currently being designed by the Turlock Irrigation District. The funding scenarios included in the CIP assume a series of three annual $15 per month increases starting next fiscal year and one $3 per month increase in the 2011-12 budget year.

"These assumptions are just that, assumptions," said Kilger.

Currently the city charges a flat rate of $15.30 per month to supply water to its approximately 42,000 residents. Non-residential users pay on a metered basis on a three-tiered system. Increases outlined in the CIP will mean water bills of $63.50 by 2011.

Mayor Anthony Cannella cautioned that the city has to wait for an analysis before deciding on specifics of water rate increases. Kilger, too, said the public will be asked to weigh in on future increases.

City officials say the surface water system is expensive but is necessary to provide a good and dependable source of water. Tightening state and federal water regulations are getting so burdensome that the city cannot solely rely on groundwater in the future.

Officials have been talking about a regional water plant since the 1980s when it became apparent that water aquifers under the Valley floor are both in limited supply and contain problems with contaminants.

TID is in the planning stage to construct a regional surface water plant for Ceres, Hughson, Turlock and South Modesto. The project is expected to go out to bid this spring with construction running from summer to 2011.

Likewise, the CIP notes that the sewer system will be running at deficit mode when factoring in capital improvements. Ceres residents collectively pay $4.3 million a year for sewer service with operations costing $3.8 million. The remainder is set aside for capital costs - but it won't be enough for the $5.7 million in items included in the CIP. It's believed that the city will need to initiate 10 percent sewer rate hikes for three consecutive years starting in 2009-10.