It will now be up to the nearly 6,000 Lathrop residents to determine whether they’re okay with rates for sewer and water to increase over the course of the next five years.
On Monday the Lathrop City Council voted 3-2 – with councilman Paul Akinjo and councilwoman Martha Salcedo dissenting – to start the process of raising both the sewer and water rates to coincide with the rising costs of maintaining the system and the decline in revenue that has come as a result of State-mandated water use reductions.
If approved by the 5,600 homeowners and 300 business operators that utilize the city’s water and sewer system – protest notices that will be delivered along with bills – then it will be before the Lathrop City Council for final approval in early January. The rate increases – which up $5-a-month in 2017 and 2018, $6-a-month in 2019 and $8-a-month in 2020 – are designed to offset what would amount to a $9.8 million shortfall in operating funds that is anticipated in the next five years.
Not everybody in attendance, however, was keen on the concept.
Resident Craig Weis said that the council begrudgingly adopted a rate increase in 2008 for the following five years under similar circumstances, and his bill went up 40 percent by the time that the rates stabilized in 2013. Now, he said, the city is back at its old tricks.
“If this was put on the ballot for the residents to vote on it wouldn’t stand a chance,” Weis said. “I also highly doubt that any of you would vote on a rate increase which is required for it to pass. So I’m asking the council to vote against even allowing this to move forward tonight.”
Weis then challenged city employees that live in Ripon to produce their own respective water bills and compare them to what Lathrop residents will be paying – agreeing to back the rate increase if they were somehow paying more than the people in the community that they help run.
The problem, he alleged, exists in the framework of the fund and not necessarily in the budget shortfall or the reduction that city staffers are claiming is to blame.
“For our expenses to be exceeding revenue is a sign that something is wrong,” he said. “It’s not about money coming in and going out. Something is wrong with the system and something else needs to be addressed. We were put in the same darn position in 2008 and you can talk about inflation – everybody understands inflation and how they wish they got a raise every year to meet the cost-of-living increase – but my water went up 40 percent over five years.
“That’s way more than just inflation.”
But City Manager Steve Salvatore disagreed.
As Lathrop’s Finance Director Cari James spelled out in her report to the council, the mandatory use reductions imposed by the state has forced Lathrop’s hand in proposing the price hike – something that they’ve held off on for two years by refinancing bonds, restructuring the existing system and signing new agreements that will save the cities millions over the course of their life.
That still doesn’t take away from the fact that the cost of maintaining the system moving forward will exceed the money available in the fund, and whether the money is provided through a rate increase of through a general fund subsidy, it will still be taxpayer money making up the difference.
“We knew that this was going to be painful for the residents here in town to hear about rate increases,” Salvatore said. “Rate increases over the course of time are just a fact of life. Rates never go down – they always go up – and that’s because things cost more over time.
“A ton of factors affect one bill in one city and another bill in another city. Since 2008 we’ve added the arsenic treatment, and if you compare Lathrop to Manteca you’re comparing to a city that has three times the population and therefore a bigger base to spread the fixed cost over. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have rate increases – they may be subsidized over a period of time by the general fund, but you pay for it one way or another.”