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Water fight in Lathrop ends in draw
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LATHROP – Water - as Mark Twain is famously credited for saying - is for fighting.

Such was the case in Lathrop this week when a deeply divided City Council traded philosophical barbs over whether those who fail to pay municipal water bills on time should be granted additional leniency.

The debate over whether to cut water reconnection fees or offer a week-long extension for Lathrop residents before their water is cut off ended up going nowhere.

That’s because no action was taken and the matter wasn’t continued to a future meeting, the ordinance as it is currently written still stands. That gave a minor victory to Lathrop Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos and Vice Mayor Christopher Mateo who both voted against making changes to the municipal code that would affect the $60 disconnection and reconnection fee the city charges delinquent ratepayers.

Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal ducked out of the meeting early due to family reasons to eliminate the opportunity for a tie-breaking vote. That’s when the matter began to get contentious when Santos made a motion to leave things as they that received no support.

Councilman Omar Ornelas countered with a proposal that would have extended the grace period offered to those having trouble paying their bill an additional week. It was a departure from earlier ideas that included pulling money out of the general fund to cover the other half of the reconnection fee he wanted to see waived. He earned support in the form of a second from Councilwoman Martha Salcedo – who wanted to make it mandatory for all late-paying customers to issue a written letter outlining why they weren’t able to make their payment on-time.

But that was as far as any changes to the current ordinance went.

The other two present voted against the pitch, and Ornelas’ repeated attempts to get Mateo on board with his proposal – asking if he could rework it to make it more to his liking – failed.

Once it was evident that not continuing the discussion was as good as Santos’ initial motion to do nothing to the ordinance, Mateo also took tabling the discussion off of the table for the time being telling Ornellas that if he would vote for anything it would likely be the initial option of leaving things as they were at the start.

According to Finance Director Terry Vigna, customers are sent a bill at the start of the month that is due by the 25th of the month with a five-day grace period. A reminder goes out on the 26th of the month, followed by a 72-hour shutoff notification that requires immediate payment in order to avoid the disconnection and reconnection fees. Roughly 100 people every month end up having their service interrupted.

Santos described any attempt to pull money from other funds to cover the shortfalls of others as “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

When he openly asked what would happen when people that were given an extension would end up leaving the water running in their dwellings out of spite, Santos was told by Ornelas that it was a “moral issue” based on the party and not something that those on the dais are able to control. Santos disagreed.

“In retrospect, if people can’t pay their bill that’s a serious moral issue,” Santos said. “What are we going to do if they decide to turn the water on in the sink and let it run for a week? The people that pay their bills on time are going to take it in the shorts and water rates are going to go up for the rest of us.”