The City of Turlock moved one step closer to an anticipated water rate increase Tuesday, as the Turlock City Council approved a $31,680 contract to have consultant Municipal Financial Services perform a water rate study.
Turlock City Council first approved the concept of performing a water rate study during a heated Jan. 8 meeting.
Tuesday's hiring of Municipal Financial Services was initially on the Turlock City Council's consent calendar – items considered routine business which are generally approved without discussion – until Councilmember Amy Bublak requested the measure be pulled for discussion.
“I wanted the public to know that another (rate) increase is coming by doing this,” Bublak said.
Turlock's water rates have not seen significant changes since a July 2008 rate increase. Turlock's water rates are roughly half of Modesto's, or one-third of Tracy's.
But those rates aren't keeping up with costs, especially as a change to meter-based billing has drastically reduced revenues. The water fund is currently operating at a $780,035 structural deficit. Any rate study will likely recommend a rate increase.
Bublak expressed concern that Turlockers were not being made aware of the impending rate change, especially as the city considers a new tax dedicated to improving streets. She also was concerned that consultants were being hired, rather than performing the work in-house.
Turlock Municipal Services Director Dan Madden said an outside consultant was needed, as performing the work in-house might not meet legal requirements of the rate-setting process.
Five consultants applied to perform the work, with four invited back for individual interviews. The selected company's principal, Tom Paveltic, has prepared more than 40 rate studies, including several in the Central Valley.
“Surprisingly, because this doesn't happen very often, the best performing in the interview also coincided with the lowest cost,” Madden said.
The decision to hire Municipal Financial Services proceeded with a 3-2 vote and no further discussion. Bublak and Bill DeHart cast votes in opposition to the hiring.
Once the water rate study is completed, it will return to council for action.
Any rate change would then go out to voters via the Proposition 218 voting process, which allows for residents to protest rate changes but does not require voter approval to implement changes. The rate increase would be rejected only if more than 50 percent of residents write, call, or e-mail in opposition; in past Turlock Prop 218 votes, only about 100 protests have been received, Madden said.
On Tuesday, the Turlock City Council also:
• Finalized the adoption of a “right-to-farm” ordinance, which states that no commercial agricultural operation conducted on agriculturally-zoned land can be considered a nuisance. Neighboring residences or businesses must “accept the inconveniences associated with agricultural operations, such as noise, odors, flies, dust or fumes.”
The right to farm will apply only to agricultural operations in existence for more than three years, which were not considered nuisances when they began.
The ordinance was brought forward as part of a settlement with the California Clean Energy Committee, which challenged Turlock's General Plan in court. Bublak voted against the ordinance, as she disagreed with the settlement.
• Adopted the 2013-2014 Annual Action Plan for the Community Development Block Grant Program and HOME Investment Partnership.
• Held the the city's cap on emergency shelter beds constant.
Turlock currently allows for the development of 200 shelter beds in a zoning overlay district, roughly bounded by A Street on the north, Center and F Streets on the east, and Linwood Avenue on the south. Those beds follow an expedited permitting process, as required under 2007's Senate Bill 2.
Turlock must review the 200 bed cap annually. Currently, 98 beds have been permitted, with 49 beds operating. A further 37 beds are planned.
• Issued proclamations in honor of Asthma Awareness Month and Public Works Week.
• Heard a presentation from the California Water Environment Association, which will recognize Dan Frisch as part of the Quarter Century Recognition Program.
• Heard staff updates on capital projects, building activity, and board, commission, and committee vacancies.
• Approved a $3.5 million project to construct a one-million gallon concrete water storage reservoir, as well as associated pumps, basins, piping and landscaping. The project will provide additional water storage needed to meet peak flow and storage requirements for the Turlock Regional Industrial Park.
Clark Bros. Inc., of Dos Palos, was the low bidder on the project, and will be the developer.
• Approved paying WLC Architects, Inc., an additional $255,000 for architectural design and construction management services for the under-construction Public Safety Facilty.
The additional costs come due to a four-month delay in construction caused by gasoline-contaminated soils, previously reported on Jan. 23.
• Began the process to renew the the Turlock Downtown Property and Business Improvement District, setting a public hearing for July 9. The district assesses property owners for maintenance and downtown activities.
The district was formally created Aug. 6, 1998, for a period of five years. It was renewed on June 24, 2003, for a period of 10 years. As such, the district must be renewed if it is to continue.
Under the proposal, properties would be assessed $136,859 in year one, increasing 2.5 percent annually through year ten.
If approved, ballots would be mailed to downtown property owners, with votes weighted by the first floor area as a percentage of the total district.
• Changed the start time for Turlock City Arts Commission meetings from 7 p.m. to 6 p.m.
• Conferenced with real property negotiators in closed session, regarding property at 1801 S. Walnut Rd. A separate closed session item saw Turlock initiate litigation against an unnamed party.