The San Jacinto City Council with only a three-person quorum reluctantly agreed to a staff requested major water and sewer rate increase to maintain the aging water and sewer systems in the city and notice it in a public hearing.
The issue of an estimated $8 million repair and replacement cost for the city’s 30-year-old city water well and pipeline system with one of three wells already inoperable and another nearing collapse was raised at the last workshop and meeting, May 19.
City manager Rob Johnson said the need to replace and repair much of the aging system in the next 5-years or sooner is absolutely necessary or the city will end up paying Eastern Municipal Water District for their water, costing far more than the needed 50% rate increase being proposed. The cost could exceed $8 million, money that the general fund cannot carry like it has been doing in recent years, Johnson said.
The city is already indebted reportedly with a $3 million infrastructure repair bond issue coming due that has helped to fund temporary repairs for the wells and pipelines over many years that still has to be repaid.
“We can’t keep putting Bandaids on the lines,” one public works supervisor said.
The staff and HdL Consultants called to examine the problem and offer solutions said that the city’s water and sewer rates had not been changed for many years and are far less then what EMWD is charging its customers now. A comparison of the city’s current rates and EMWD’s may be found on the city website under agendas and minutes.
At the last meeting, the council sent the request back to staff to come up with a better solution to the first 50% rate increase proposed.
The staff returned to the regular June 2 meeting and gave their latest proposal with only Mayor Pro Tem Crystal Ruiz and council members Joel Lopez and Alonso Ledezma participating in the teleconference. Mayor Andrew Kotyuk had to excuse himself from the remainder of the meeting, while councilmember Russ Utz was recovering from a serious auto accident earlier in the week and could not participate.
The proposal asked for a $7.86 water rate increase and a $1 sewer rate increase per month to cover 50% of the anticipated 5-year repair and placement cost to the systems. Johnson said that even that may not be enough to cover all the costs in the next five years for the rapidly deteriorating systems.
Each councilmember said such a steep rate increase for the city water would create tremendous hardship for residents and businesses who they said can hardly afford the current rates due to the devastating coronavirus effect that left hundreds unemployed and businesses shut down in the past two months. Yet, the repairs and replacements on the wells and pipelines have to be done or the city and its residents will have to depend on EMWD for its potable water at very high and constantly changing cost.
Lopez suggested that maybe the city could call upon its residents to lend a hand in repairing and better using the system instead of increasing the rates. He said he came on the council with the object of saving his constituents more money in taxes and fees.
“I just can’t go for this,” he said.
Ruiz said the rate increase was one she personally might not be able to afford in the “new economy” and possible upcoming recession. Yet agreed that a rate increase would be necessary.
Ledezma said the coronavirus shutdown has seriously affected his real estate business and knew other city businesses were faced with the same situation and that many residents have lost their jobs. He was not sure residents were ready for a major water and sewer rate increase at least not for the next year.
Following the discussion, the council, with Lopez voting “no,” directed the city manager to notice the public hearing on the proposed water and sewer rate increase to be held in the next 45-days to hear from residents about the situation. Public hearings must be held before the council can raise the rates. The city attorney said the motion could be passed with a 2-1 majority vote.
Staff was directed to see what other options might be available to fund the needed repairs before the public hearings. The public will be allowed to express their views in the public hearing before a council decision is made.
The council, earlier in the meeting when Kotyuk was present at the teleconference, also approved an amendment to the Street Sweeping and General Parking Enforcement Program with SECURTEC District Patrol Inc. in the amount of $299,221 for a three-year parking enforcement contract and with Data Ticket Inc. for a three-year parking citation processing contract in the amount of $135,000.
Tony Ault can be reached by email at email@example.com.