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Water rate hike hearing Tuesday

NEWMAN – A water rate hike proposal which drew vocal criticism from the public when presented for City Council consideration in November will go before local leaders a second time next Tuesday.

If enacted, the measure would nearly double typical monthly water charges over a five-year period.

The city is required by Prop. 218 to give the public an opportunity to protest the rate increase – which will be blocked if protests representing more than 50 percent of parcels in the community are filed.

The upcoming hearing and tabulation of protests marks the second time the council will have gone through the process.

Council members ordered a second protest election to be held after concerns were voiced about the format used in the initial notice and a ZIP Code error on that document.

At that November meeting, several audience members spoke out in vehement opposition to the rate hike itself, as the proposal was panned on grounds ranging from water quality to affordability to a shift in how the monthly bills would be calculated.

According to information provided by the city, the proposed change would increase the monthly water charges for a typical residential consumer from $19.33 to $36.66 over the course of five years. The initial monthly increase for a typical consumer would increase by about $7, according to the city.

As part of the proposal, the rate structure would also change to charge consumers a per-unit fee for every 100 cubic feet of water used (in addition to a base rate). The current base rates includes four units of water before per-unit charges kick in.

City officials contend that the rate hikes are necessary to offset an operational deficit in the water fund and make needed repairs and improvements to the system – including a new well which officials believe could potentially improve the quality of Newman’s notoriously hard water.

City Manager Michael Holland said an initial sample at the potential well site northwest of the city showed water quality that could cut the hardness almost in half if that well is developed. A second sample is being drawn to confirm the initial results, he said.

Holland said the city took public criticism from the first go-round to heart.

Its new Prop. 218 notice, he pointed out, included a form which could simply be filled out and returned if the recipient wished to protest the rate hikes, and directed recipients to a Spanish-speaking staff member if assistance was required in that language.

“We made the (ZIP Code) mistake, we owned up to it and we corrected it. We also created what we believed to be a more user-friendly notice which took into account the comments we heard from the public,” Holland commented.

Despite the vocal criticism aired at the initial public hearing, the rate hike has not generated a flurry of protests. As of last week, Director of Public Works Garner Reynolds said, the city had received 89 protests.

Protests can be filed prior to – or during – the public hearing.

At the close of the public hearing, the protests will be tabulated. If protests representing more than 50 percent of parcels have not been lodged, the council at that point can consider formal action to enact the rate increases.

The council meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 938 Fresno St. (second floor).