The Turlock City Council finalized a controversial water rate increase Tuesday night, which will see water bills nearly double by 2019 for the average household.
Following the decision, the average Turlocker will see his or her monthly bill increase by roughly $4 at each of six dates: July 1, Jan. 1 2015, then every July 1 thereafter through 2019. The average household’s water bill will increase from $24 today to $47 over the next five years..
Tuesday’s final 4-1 vote came as part of the second reading of the ordinance, which is traditionally largely ceremonial. Turlock City Councilwoman Amy Bublak cast the lone vote in opposition; she believes the rate will disproportionately affect seniors, veterans, and the disabled.
The vote differed from the initial 3-2 vote, cast March 25, when Councilman Bill DeHart also opposed the measure. At the time, DeHart was concerned with the city’s outreach effort to notify citizens of a vote on the impending rate increase; just 605 residents turned in ballots to oppose the rate increase, far less than the 8,771 “No” votes needed to stop the rate increase.
DeHart said Tuesday that, after reviewing 51 pages of documents prepared by Turlock city staff, he determined that the outreach effort did go far and beyond what was required by the law.
“It’s always appropriate to admit, if you must, that you were wrong,” DeHart said. “And I was.”
More than 24,000 ballots were sent out to Turlock property owners, account holders, and renters, Turlock city staff said. Per state law Turlock only needed to issue about 18,000 ballots, but opted to send extra ballots to anyone potentially affected. Some, however, claimed they did not receive the ballots.
Notifications were posted in local newspapers. And three workshops were held on Feb. 19.
“I have to say the facts don’t lie,” DeHart said. “… It became apparent to me, very, very quickly, that we far exceeded not just the requirement, but also began to deal with the unintended consequences.”
DeHart noted that the disconnect may have come as the City of Turlock’s outreach effort, perhaps, targeted media which did not truly reach Turlockers. He argued that as many as three-quarters of Turlockers now rely on the Internet as their primary news source, while many postings and advertisements regarding the rate change appeared primarily in print newspapers.
DeHart advised city staff to construct future media campaigns in a manner which embraced the shift to online news, so as to avoid the perception that the city could or should have done more to inform its residents of the rate change.
"Maybe at times we get caught up in perception, and perception and facts are two different things,” DeHart said.