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Water meter rates to be set
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Residents of Ceres will be able to comment Monday evening on the proposed water rates that will accompany water meters next year.

The 7 p.m. meeting of the Ceres City Council at the Ceres Community Center will include a discussion about what to charge residents for water service.

The city has been installing new water meters in Ceres and will be reading meters for the first time in January. Mock bills will be delivered in February to give residents an idea of what their bills will be once the actual metered water rate kicks in starting July 2011.

It's proposed that residents will be charged water on the basis of a monthly "base service charge" based on water pipe size and a water use fee at a rate of 64.32 cents per 1,000 gallons used. Most homes in Ceres will be paying a base service charge of $18.33 per month based if they have a 5/8th- or 3/4-quarter-inch delivery pipe.

The average monthly bill is projected to be $28.19 per month, said Ceres City Engineer Glenn Gebhardt.

"Water bills may go down for a fair percentage of the community." he said.

Coming up with a fair rate structure that keeps revenues fairly the same for the city has been a complex exercise. Complicating the figuring of rates for metered water is the fact that the council approved a series of rate increases to begin on March 1, 2009 to help pay for improvements to the aging systems and rising production costs, covering the cost of buying and installing water meters, and treating water to quality standards. The rate hikes were also made to make up for a $2 million annual deficit because the city wasn't charging enough to cover expenses.

The council decided to base the base service charge to be 65 percent of the total bill as a way to keep residents having a widely fluctuating bill that soars with summer peak demand and drops dramatically during winter months when outdoor watering drops off. The council may decide later, said Gebhardt, to set the base charge at 35 percent of the total bill as residents adjust their water use habits after meters take effect.

To help homeowners save on water and their bills, the city will begin offering a rebate program for the purchase of water saving devices such as low-flush toilets and washing machines.

The city of Ceres decided to begin charging for water service on a metered basis instead of a flat rate because of a state law. California lawmakers are requiring all municipal water suppliers to go to metered water because studies show that residents tend to be more conservative with water because rates are based on use and conservation rates of 20 percent are often realized.

That's appealing to those who are worried about the quantity of water available in California.