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Rate hikes for water & sewer subject to Prop. 218 protest hearing
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A protest hearing will be held on Jan. 26 before the city can raise monthly water and sewer rates.

Under the terms of Proposition 218, no increases may take place if more than 50 percent of property owners return protest ballots. Renters will be allowed to protest, if they choose, but only one protest vote will be counted per parcel, said City Attorney Michael Lyions.

City officials say that water and sewer rates must be raised since revenue is not covering expenses. Rates have not been raised in the city for over a decade and Ceres residents pay one of the lowest rates in the area, said Steven Dalrymple, president of West Yost Associates. However, the city must now make significant capital and infrastructure improvements to its aging water and sewer systems. Increases will enable the city to upgrade the system to satisfy health regulations imposed by state agencies.

While the proposed rate hikes are designed to bring the services into the black and pay for infrastructure upgrades, the city will need to raise rates again for water at a later date. Rates will need to be raised when the city is forced by state law to install meters on homes. Dalrymple estimated that 95 percent of all Ceres houses don't have meters. By the end of 2010, the city must install water meters on all homes built after 1992. And by January 2025, the state requires all cities to have meters installed on home built prior to 1992.

Rates will also need to be raised if the city agrees to participate in a regional surface water plant coordinated by the Turlock Irrigation District. Officials say the plant is necessary to guarantee a supply of water that meets state water quality standards since groundwater is no longer reliable.

City leaders said they regret the rate hike proposal in bad economic times but the city has to "stop the bleeding," in the words of Vice Mayor Chris Vierra.

"We can no longer continue to operate in the red," said Vierra. "We definitely have to fix those deficiencies ... While I'm not enjoying this ... we have to do something."

The city is proposing to rate water rates from the current $15.30 per month per single-family home. Rates would jump to $22.30 in 2008-09 fiscal year, $26.85 by 2009, $28.20 by 2010 and $31.40 by 2012-13.

Sewer rates would need to go from $22.25 per month to $58.75 per month by 2012 in north Ceres and $43.99 per month in other parts of Ceres. The rates would be higher in north Ceres because wastewater is processed at the city of Modesto plant.