By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
It's time for Ceres to pay the piper for flat water rates
Placeholder Image
Soon and very soon, the Ceres City Council will be increasing rates charged on water service within the city of Ceres.

In case someone hasn't been reading recent Courier articles on the topic, the impending increases will probably come as a shock. After all, those residents are probably thinking that the recent switch-over to meters was intended to implement a more equitable way of charging for water on the basis of use so why are they increasing rates?

To be clear, the city of Ceres HAD to go to water meters because dictatorial lawmakers in Sacramento REQUIRED them. There was no choice. The state's idea is that if you put everybody on water meters, they will not be wasteful about the precious commodity of water because they are paying on the basis of how much they use and nobody wants high water bills. The state claims an instant 20 percent increase in water conservation is realized when a city goes to metered rates. (Actually in Ceres there has been a 24 percent reduction in water use since going to meters). Obviously there is a financial incentive not to waste water. Thus the household that allows their sprinklers to run excess water into the gutter or who hose down their sidewalks (against city law actually) will be paying more than the family who is careful about water use. The family who owns a swimming pool will be paying more than the household with minimal landscaping requiring watering. Perhaps meters are a fair way to do business given that California needs more water for farming and urban use alike.

But just because a city goes to a metered system does not mean there will never be rate increases. If that were the case then we'd always pay the same price for gallons of milk, liters of soda or gallons of gasoline that are frankly all sold on a "metered" basis since we buy numbers of units.

The reason that Ceres must increase rates is quite simple. The water system needs significant upgrades that are costly. City officials note that there are some sections of the Ceres water system that are 80 years old and in need of replacement. There are also inadequacies in the system which bottlenecks in certain areas.

The city is short in capital improvement project (CIP) funds because water rates remained flat for 12 years prior to 2008 rate increases designed to make the water system pay for itself. The city has only been setting aside $900,000 annually for capital projects but needs to save $2.3 million annually by 2017-18 fiscal year. Projects that are needed include the $1.2 million for a new north side well, $4.9 million Central Avenue main, and $400,000 to design River Bluff Park tank and pump station.

Ceres residents enjoyed 12 years of no rate increases. Now it's time to pay the piper.

Now that brings me to an unsigned letter I received from an upset Ceres resident who dislikes the residents' prospects of halting the proposed increases in an upcoming Jan. 28 Proposition 218 protest hearing. The letter writer said: "I hope the citizens .... will awaken to what our city fathers have set up for us. It requires a majority of the affected properties to protest and then only in writing to stop the implementation of rate increases."

Proposition 218 (part of the California Constitution) mandates that some fees and taxes levied by local government be noticed by mail to property owners, and that written protests be allowed. If 50 percent plus one person protest, the rate increase is not allowed. In 1996 the voters approved the Howard Javis Taxpayers Association-sponsored Right to Vote on Taxes Act. HJTA wrote Proposition to 218 in response to cities and counties around the state that were imposing new taxes in the dead of night without consulting the public, and imposing new or increased assessments on property owners - often without their knowledge.

The letter writer is under the false impression that the city set up the Prop. 218 protest hearing. To be clear, the state voters passed Prop. 218 which requires fee increases to be put through the protest process. Obviously Prop. 218 sets a high bar for a population to block a council from raising rates. It's indeed very hard to generate 50 percent plus one resident to protest anything. If Prop. 218 were written to make every fee increase to lower that percentage of affected residents, I doubt any city anywhere could raise fees, putting city operations at jeopardy of operating at deficit mode.

On Monday, Jan. 28, don't expect throngs of people to rattle the rafters of the City Council Chambers, and certainly not 50 percent plus one. This is a day and age of apathy. Most Ceres residents are probably unaware that water rate increases are on the way. And to those who know it's coming, most figure that the cost of doing business goes up for everyone, including government, the guy who tows your car or changes your oil at the auto shop. They realize it's rather futile to stop increases designed to keep the system going. It would be the same as ignoring the repair of a radiator on your car if you expect to keep your vehicle running in a dependable fashion.

With the higher rates, Ceres rates will still remain lower than those of Modesto. The average Ceres household currently uses 15,820 gallons of water per month, which costs $31.28 (a $20.42 per month service charge and $10.86 per month in volumetric charges.) Under the proposed rates, the average Ceres household would pay $35.57 per month this year, $39.93 in 2014-15, $44.18 in 2015-16, $47.24 in 2016-17 and $50.43 in 2017-18. We're talking about a $19.15 hike over five years.

The real sticker shock comes later if city officials decide they will participate in the regional surface water project - and it appears they are headed in that direction. Hughson opted out, saying their current utility bills are too high already. That could be a mistake. The reason that local cities are looking for cleaner river water is simply because the state ever increases water quality standards, making it harder for decent water to make the grade. River water - filtered for impurities of course -- is typically better in quality than water pumped out of the ground.

Use of treated river water will require more improvements to the existing Ceres water system because more pressure would be in introduced. When the $151 million plant goes on line in about 10 years, Ceres and other cities plan to blend both treated river water with well water for home use. Ceres will be able to take six million gallons per day but currently uses 12 million per day. Ceres households may be impacted an additional $8 to $16 per month once the surface water project goes on line.

This isn't your grandpa's California anymore. We are a far cry from the days of 1949, when the Vincent family was allowed to go 36 years without raising water rates for its Ceres Water Works customers (the first time since 1913). Control freaks in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. are helping drive up water prices through ever-increasing regulation and unwillingness to add more storage projects. It seems the last Democrats who rushed to build dams were JFK and Gov. Pat Brown who blew the first dynamite charge to begin construction on San Luis Reservoir in August 1962. Kennedy bragged about Brown making water available to Californians. If that were only the case today. Now the party in charge has been convinced by environmentalists to stop building dams altogether at a time when we need them most.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing him at