San Jacinto City to increase water and sewer rates Jan. 1, 2021

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The San Jacinto City Council, with Mayor Andrew Kotyuk absent, voted to approve a water and sewer rate increase that will go into effect Jan. 1, 2021.

The discussion over the proposed water and sewer rate increases began May 19, when the city manager and public works director explained the city’s water and sewer system, its wells, lift stations, pumps, pipelines and other equipment were rapidly deteriorating because of age and some wells must be closed or would soon close.

According to the public works and finance departments’ estimated report, bringing the wells, pipelines, stations and systems back to a level where the city’s water and sewer customers could rely on the lower cost services into the future would cost a minimum of $8.6 million, if the money were available, and would take five years to complete.

The city responded that it did not have the amount necessary in its general funds and would need to take the money from its reserve fund, which is already stressed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

City manager Rob Johnson said the public works crews have put a “BandAid” on the system for years and now they have “kicked the can down the road as far as they can.” The staff said the city water and sewer rates have not increased enough in the past 10-15 years to pay for the rising cost of repairs and replacement to the systems.

The city staff on request of the council hired the consultant firm, Raftelis, to present a water and wastewater rate study, which detailed three levels of needed Capital Improvement Projects. The funding plans included 100% funding or $13.3 million for all necessary repairs and replacements, 50% funding or $6.6 million and 30% funding or $3.9 million. The city council expressed interest in funding at the 50% CIP scenario but inquired about the possibility of phasing the increase at lower increments.

A public hearing was called Aug. 18, and continued through the Sept. 1 meeting. Three public protests were heard, and no public comments were received. The hearing was closed when the council voted 4-0 to institute the rate increase Jan. 1, instead of Oct. 1, as was first requested.

The council will implement the 50% rate increase and raise $6.6 million over the next five years to help pay for basic repairs and well replacement.

The average rate increase to the public with 3 3/4-inch water lines will be an estimated $11.24 per month and $4.92 per month for the sewer system. Those rates will vary depending on the size of the pipelines and the customer type – residential, commercial, etc. The predicted rates can be found on the city’s website and in the Aug. 18 and Sept. 1 city council agenda.

In other business, the council received and filed an Investment Portfolio Review from the city investment counselors who indicated the market is beginning to rise again, improving the city’s $20 million in investments.

They heard and approved an Art in Public Places cabinet beautification pilot program that would place vinyl coverings with colorful photographs and artwork over the city’s street light and utility cabinets at two busy intersections, on at the Five Points Intersection and a second to be determined, possible outside of the high school at Ramona Boulevard and Tiger Lane. The coverings will tell residents and visitors about the city’s history, progress and other community information. The cost for the coverings is $5,000.

The council asked the staff to contact local sign companies to see if they could create similar artwork coverings for the boxes in other locations.

The council also declined the offer of a historic 1928 Hit and Miss Western Standard Gas Engine that was once used to pump irrigation water into agricultural fields. The 11,000-pound gas engine sits on a concrete base at the Abinider home.

The council said they appreciated the offer but had to decline it. Instead, they agreed to help the family find an appropriate location for the old, but working engine. It would have cost the city close to $10,000 to move and relocate the engine to the Francisco Estudillo Heritage Park as suggested or to another location in the city. The council said the cost of the relocation would be better spent on improving the Mansion’s old barn, which is being made into a community dance hall.

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