By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Rate hikes survive protest hearing
Placeholder Image
Starting next month, look for water and sewer bills in Ceres to be take more of the family budget. The city's rate increase schedule was approved Monday evening after the number of protests fell far short of the required 50 percent to halt the action.

Officials said the city isn't charging enough to cover expenses. City Manager Brad Kilger said the city is losing about $2 million annually because rates have lagged behind expenses.

It's costing more to supply water because of the costly methods of wellhead treatment required by the state Department of Water Resources. Sewer costs have arisen because the cities of Modesto and Turlock - which accept Ceres' wastewater - have passed their increases onto the city.

Currently the city's water charge is $15.30 per month per single-family home. It will rise to $22.30 immediately, then to $26.85 by 2009, $28.20 by 2010 and $31.40 by 2012-13.

Sewer rates will jump 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 will be higher in north Ceres because wastewater is processed at the city of Modesto plant and Modesto has passed on greater operations costs to Ceres.

"I don't feel good about it but unfortunately we have to stop the bleeding," commented Councilman Ken Lane.

The rate hike request triggered a Proposition 218 protest hearing. A number of residents spoke against the increases.

John Butler, a Louise Avenue resident, listened to the reasons for the increases but said he still didn't like it. "There's only so much we can take," he told the City Council. He called for the city to cut wages of all its employees.

Sherry Mann protested the hikes, saying that many elderly are living on $700 to $800 per month. She was then told that the city has a program for reduced rates in hardship cases.

Len Shepherd asked the city to halt all building in Ceres, saying he doesn't think the city has the infrastructure in place. He also complained that he didn't get a voice in the matter since he lives in Las Casitas Mobilehome Park and only one protest vote was allowed the entire parcel.

Las Casitas Mobilehome Park owner Scott Kane said he wanted to see his park placed on a sewer meter feeling it would result in lesser costs. Public Works Director Phil Scott said the city doesn't use sewer meters except for larger industrial uses. Kane also suggested that he wants to put an irrigation well in his park like the city has for its parks.

City Attorney Mike Lyions explained that because there are 12,648 parcels receiving city water service, at least half, or 6,325 protests would need to be received. As of Monday only 136 written protests were received. Only 119 protested the sewer increases; at least 6,359 protests were needed to stop them since 12,716 parcels receive sewer service.

The council was apologetic about the rate hikes. "I can assure you this is not something we want to do," said Mayor Anthony Cannella. "Right now we're operating at about a $2 million deficit a year in sewer and water. We currently have about a $5 million reserve for our general fund. If we do not raise rates we will be broke in two years and that's just in sewer and water." He added: "If there was anything else that we could do we would do it."

Besides covering expenses, rates are going up to build up moneys for significant capital improvements to its aging water and sewer systems. Improving both systems will enable the city to satisfy health regulations imposed by state agencies.

Also built into the rate hike are funds to pay for water and sewer master plan required by the state.