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Modesto, CA trying to blunt proposed 150% rate increase

By MICHAEL G. MOONEY
BEE STAFF WRITER

The Modesto City Council is set to consider a revamped water-rate plan Tuesday that still would significantly increase monthly fees for about 74,000 businesses and residences.

But city officials contend the latest fee-hike scheme is not as onerous as the original one. That called for an increase of 35 percent this fiscal year, with a 30 percent hike each of the following two years and a 5 percent annual increase in 2007-08 and 2008-09.

For most Modesto families, said Greg Baird, assistant city finance director, that would have meant a total increase of more than 150 percent.

Under the new plan, water rates would climb from 14 percent to 43 percent on Jan. 1, depending upon lot size and in which water zone the home is located.

Most Modesto homeowners, Baird said Friday, could expect monthly water bills to increase by about 35 percent.

The plan calls for four more rate hikes following the Jan. 1 boost: 20 percent in 2005-06, 15 percent in 2006-07, 5 percent in 2007-08 and 5 percent in 2008-09.

Baird said that amounts to a total increase of about 105 percent.

The new plan also ends the city’s three-tiered rate structure and water zone system.

That means that as of Jan. 1, all nonmetered payers with residences on same-sized lots would pay the same monthly rate.

Under the existing rate structure, a Zone 1 (which includes most neighborhoods) homeowner with a lot size from 5,001 square feet to 7,000 square feet pays $20.60 a month for water.

For the same-sized lot in Zone 2, which includes some older neighborhoods scattered throughout Modesto, including the Airport neighborhood, a homeowner pays $24.61.

In Zone 3 — which includes Salida, Empire, Waterford, Grayson, Hickman, Del Rio, as well as small sections of Ceres and Turlock — the rate is $15.63.

But as of Jan. 1, Baird said, all would pay $27.81 a month for water.

City officials have said water rate increases are necessary to maintain and improve the existing treatment and delivery system. Modesto has not raised water rates since 1994.

Since the mid-1990s, the city has relied on wells and treated Tuolumne River water that collects at Modesto Reservoir.

$152.8M needed for upgrades

Officials have estimated the city needs $152.8 million to refurbish and upgrade its drinking water storage and delivery system. Of that, nearly $38 million would pay for the city’s share of the costs for expanding the regional water treatment plant at Modesto Reservoir.

That surface water treatment plant is operated by the Modesto Irrigation District.

Tens of millions of dollars more are needed, officials contend, to build and repair pipelines and storage tanks.

Some critics of the rate-hike plan have complained that the city’s cost estimates are too vague. Some also have attacked the “one-rate-fits-all” plan, saying it favors people with large homes and lots.

Bee staff writer Michael G. Mooney can be reached at 578-2384