By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Water, sewer rate hike proposals trigger backlash
Placeholder Image
LATHROP – Even after the proposed water rate hikes were slashed from $4 down to $2 a month for the next five years, many Lathrop residents said that would still impose a hardship on their already thinly stretched budgets.

The majority of the nearly 30 people who protested the proposed water and sewer rate increases were seniors on fixed incomes. One speaker said he had just been laid off from his job. Still another speaker, a 17-year-old East Union High School senior, said the increase in their monthly bills would be really felt by his family of 10.

It’s those testimonies which prompted Council members Sonny Dhaliwal and Christopher Mateo to suggest a continuance of the public hearing so city staff would have more time to explore other ways and means to further reduce the financial burden on the city’s financially strapped citizens.

Dhaliwal said he does not want to see people who are so financially hard up that they would have to choose “between food and water or between food and medicine” to get by.

But on the flip side, without the utility rate increases, the city would end up subsidizing the water and sewer rate increases with money from its general fund.  This year alone, that subsidy would amount to about $1 million dollars which translates to about $5 million in five years.

That was the difficult dilemma faced by the members of the council.

With just four of them present at the meeting Tuesday night (Vice Mayor Martha Salcedo was absent), the evenly divided council with Mayor Kristy Sayles and Council member Robert Oliver ready to approve the middle ground, Option #3, offered between Options #1 and #2 which offered higher figures, and Option #4 which would maintain the current status quo or no increases at all, and Council members Sonny Dhaliwal and Christopher Mateo pushing for further discussion hoping staff could find a way to further whittle down the new lower figures, the situation called for a stalemate resulting in the unanimous decision to continue the hearing to the next council meeting in March.

Below are some of the highlights in the choices that council had to work with:

• Option #1 proposes water rates to go up incrementally every year for five years from $39 to $60 a month for all residents east of Interstate 5, and from the current $30 to $51 per month for residents west of the freeway. For sewer rates, the figures are $34 to $71 a month in five years for residents in historic Lathrop or on the east side, and from $34 to $63 a month for those on the west side.

• Option #2 would be for a three-year duration with the same starting figures as above but would cap in three years at $53 a month in water rates for those on the east side, and at $49 a month for the same span of time for those living in west Lathrop.

• Option 3 would consist of a three-year rate plan with the new reductions. For water, that would be from $39 to $46 a month for those who live in historic Lathrop, and from $30 to $37 a month for those on the west side. Sewer utility rates would jump from $34 to $52 a month for residents in historic Lathrop, and from $34 to $48 to those on the west side.

• Option #4, which is what the protesters of the proposed rate increases want to see approved, would maintain the present status quo, that is, no rate increases whatsoever. But that would mean having the city subsidize all the rate increases which would practically dry up the city’s general fund.

Mayor Kristy Sayles and Council member Robert Oliver were ready to approve Option 3 but were thwarted by Council members Sonny Dhaliwal and Christopher Mateo who wanted a continuance of the public hearing for the second time to give staff more time to explore any other possibilities that would slash even more the numbers under this option which, in the water rates alone, would represent just a monthly increase of $2, except in 2010 when the monthly increase goes up to $3.

Oliver said that staff who crunched the numbers have already “dug as deep as they could” to come up with the slashed figures under the new proposals. Sayles agreed with him saying with an ironic laugh, “I saw blood trails in City Hall this week,” referring to all the hard work that went into the latest proposals.

But Dhaliwal remained hopeful that staff could still be able to come up with other “creative” solutions to lower the suggested increases further. In response to a question from one of the council members whether two weeks would produce results considering the numbers had been cut as close as they could get to the city’s financial skeleton, Dhaliwal pointed to what the staff was able to do in the first extension of the hearing. In that time period, he said, staff was able to pare down the suggested increases “from $4 to $2.”

He added, “I think our citizens will understand” if they have to wait for another two weeks.

Mateo concurred with Dhaliwal saying, “Two weeks is nothing compared to five years.”