Failing water and sewer lines in San Jacinto could bring steep rate increases, council learns

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The necessity of increasing the city’s water and sewer rates due to aging and deteriorating pipelines was the topic of a San Jacinto City Council workshop, held virtually Tuesday, May 19, before the regular city council at 6:30 p.m.

Consultants studied the need for replacing the city water and sewer systems and the possible costs associated with those repairs. Their reports, that within the next year and for the next five years, the city will have to adjust their residential and commercial rates up to 50% or higher, disturbed to the council.

The workshop followed two recent water line breaks occurring on Sanderson Avenue in rainstorms. The damage caused the busy highway to close for a time. It was found that the old metal water pipes had deteriorated and possibly were poorly sealed. The city public works crews reamed out many storm drains and sewer pipes and found that tree roots are pushing through the pipes and causing serious leaks.

City manager Rob Johnson explained the city has approximately $3 million in debt for infrastructure maintenance and repairs that has to be paid. The current water and sewer rates have not been changed for years and will not be enough to cover the debt, he said.

The consultant recommended that a rate change of up to 30% should go into effect by 2021 and that additional rate increases should continue for the next four years, less each year. Johnson said the city needs rate increase of 50% and maybe even more.

“They are alarming (the rates), but they have to be made,” Johnson said.

He said making up the debt cannot be done through the general fund since it would take needed city reserves for any catastrophic events.

However, three options for rate changes were presented, with two of the options gradually adjusting to 10% each year for five years or more.

“That would not make it,” Johnson said, as costs will continue to increase each year as they have done in the past. Yet a gradual solution still may be the most applicable, he said.

The list of options was shown to the council during the teleconference. The public could not immediately see the information shown on a PowerPoint presentation with the proposed rate increases, but it may be available in a later public meeting or online.

It was also suggested the city change the way the water rates are computed based on the meter size and the type or class of use, such as residential, commercial, industrial or fire.

Council members Russ Utz, Alonso Ledezma, Joel Lopez and Mayor Pro Tem Crystal Ruiz participated in the workshop, with Mayor Andrew Kotyuk absent. The council members decided the option to make gradual rate increases to the water and sewer rates was the best way to meet the debt and maintain services, particularly considering the current economic crisis from the coronavirus pandemic.

Utz said of the proposed rate increase, “We have to tread lightly here,” since the residents using EMWD have already learned of rate increases for their customers.

No decision was made to raise the rates at the workshop, but the proposal will be presented in a public hearing on or before July 17.

The council during its regular meeting May 19, which opened at 7:03 p.m., approved a proposal by landowner Fatima Rahman to change the zone of a 0.65-acre land parcel at 301 State St., where an abandoned building now stands, from commercial neighborhood to commercial general so it can be more easily improved.

They also made the water and wastewater rate setting by resolution instead of ordinance to save time in its implementation. That issue was discussed in the earlier workshop.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.