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Reasons for the rate increases
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In 2008 when gas prices soared to $4.50 a gallon, I squawked like everyone. Besides scaling back on the amount of miles driven, I was powerless to have prices lowered at the pump.

Likewise, I wasn't overjoyed to learn that both Turlock and Modesto irrigation districts are jacking up electrical rates.

But alas, cold hard reality hits. We have to pay what is being charged or learn to do without. Benjamin Franklin once said that the certainties in life were death and taxes. He might as well added inflation. Everything gets more expensive with time, whether it's the cost of food or flushing your toilet; whether it's tomatoes or turning on your tap.

Why wouldn't we expect city of Ceres sewer and water rates to increase as well? Maybe a mistrust of government officials in general comes into play. Funny thing: When we hear the local grocer say he has to raise milk prices, we believe his reasons for doing so. We don't mistrust the hardware store when the cost of a Weedwhacker goes up. But when government says the cost of doing business is up and prices need to be raised, people are far more suspicious. Whether we're talking postage stamps or building permits, the eyebrow is raised in heightened suspicion.

Rates for Ceres water and sewer service are proposed to go up as revenues aren't covering expenses. Water rates will have to be increased 65 percent and sewer rates by 41 percent in order to have revenues match this year's budgeted expenses. The current deficits combined are between $600,000 and $1 million per year.

Rates have not been raised in over a decade and Ceres residents pay one of the lowest rates in the area. The proposed higher rates are to cover the funding gap and to build up monies for some capital improvements to its aging water and sewer systems.

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

Sewer rates are expected 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.

Before the city could say it is raising rates, a nexus study had to be done to ensure that the proposed hike is fair. Cities cannot make a profit in supplying services like sewer and water.

On Jan. 26 the City Council will meet to deliberate on these rate increases but before rates can be raised a protest hearing must be held. That's because Proposition 218, passed in 1996 to prevent local government from raising fees and taxes as a way around Prop. 13, requires a procedure for protest. (A fee for water and sewer may not be a tax since it is a fee for service but Prop. 218 applies anyway). It's very difficult for those against raising fees and taxes to get around the fact that at least 50 percent of all affected ratepayers have to send in a written protest; we all know how difficult it is to get anyone to pay attention to what City Hall is doing.

If you're opposed to rate hikes - and I realize most don't want their costs to go up - consider that the city's sewer and water systems break down like any other mechanism. Pipes and pumps need replacement and costs of running them go up. If the city is to be criticized for anything it should be for not increasing costs earlier to make revenues equal expenses.

When the city isn't charging enough for sewer and water services, it must be coming from the general fund, which is where your police and fire services are funded. Is anyone in favor of that?

Aside from inflationary factors, the city also is mandated to do certain things by the state. Currently the state is pressing the city for an update of its water management plan and its sewer master plan. Doing those two tasks will cost in excess of $600,000. Part of the proposed rate hikes is to fund those tasks.

Neighboring cities are affecting wastewater rates. In north Ceres, waste is piped to Modesto, which processes it. If Modesto rates go up, Ceres has no control and must pay those rate. Wastewater from most of Ceres is treated locally and sent to the Turlock plant for disposal. Likewise, if Turlock's rates go up, Ceres has to absorb those added costs.

The state and federal government are also prompting expenses to go up in the water division. One example: The state wants all homes in California to have water meters. Are all those meters coming as a gift to cities? No, and the costs will be passed onto the users - you and I. Part of the proposed water rate hike is earmarked for water meters.

It's also getting more and more expensive to deliver water these days. The state and feds keep increasing the standards for water purity when it's already clean. As technology advances and we are able to measure more minute particles in water, someone invariably enacts more stringent standards. The costs of meeting those standards don't really gain us any healthier benefits. Ironically, the state has a limit on the level of nitrates in a city water system yet a single hot dog has more nitrates than you could get out of drinking city water for years.

Because of those high water standards, the city has to engage in expensive wellhead treatment.

Ultimately the answer to drinking water need is the TID surface water plant. If Ceres decides to participate - and it looks as though it will - it's going to be pricey. But honestly the water out of the Tuolumne River is cleaner than that in the ground, and will be an endless stream.

Water rates will need to increase again if Ceres signs up with TID. Consultants recommend that the city begin raising rates for the plant before it goes out to bid in the spring or before the plant goes on line in 2012. Costs are not solid but they could range from $4.5 million per year over a 27-year period for 6 million gallons per day, to $7.4 million for 27 years if Ceres takes 11.5 MGD.

Like gas prices, the issue of water and sewer costs is a complex thing and worthy of understanding before anyone lodges a protest.

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