A unanimous vote by council members approved the first reading of a proposal that will raise the average bill for a single-family home, now $31, to a monthly rate of $34, according to Steve Bayley, public works project specialist.
The increase, which should last for two years, will take effect 30 days after the council approves the final reading of the ordinance. That is expected to occur during an August meeting, Bayley said.
An increase — the first since 2006 — is needed to fund the construction of a $25 million outflow pipeline that will deliver treated wastewater north from Tracy to Old River in Lathrop.
More than half of the project’s cost, about $14 million, will be covered by the rate increase, while developer fees collected by the city will cover the remaining $11 million.
The new 3.5-mile pipeline — which can handle 16 million gallons a day and should last 60 to 80 years — is critical because it’s the only deliverance method for discharging the city’s wastewater, according to Bayley. The existing pipeline — which pumps about 9 million gallons of wastewater a day — is more than 40 years old and is showing signs of its age.
Bayley told council members that it “would be downright foolish” to delay the two-year process of installing the new pipeline.
“If the pipe became damaged, say by a farmer or San Joaquin County cleaning the ditches and something poked a hole in it, we would have to shut down our treatment plant to repair that pipeline,” he said. “We can’t discharge water. Water could also flow out of that pipe, maybe into farmers’ fields, but maybe into Paradise Cut or Tom Paine Slough, waters of the U.S. and we would be subject to severe penalties … because it’s not an approved point of discharge.”
Time is also of the essence, according to Bayley, because the new pipeline will traverse a corn field in Lathrop that is slated for rezoning as wildlife habitat.
Once that happens, Bayley said construction “is virtually impossible,” because the pipeline can’t be built within 300 feet of the habitat.
“I don’t know what we would do, I don’t know an alternative,” he said. “We’ve planned for about 10 years. It’s been in the budget and it’s currently in the budget.”
Councilman Robert Rickman had concerns about raising the rate, citing “tough economic times” that he said residents in the city are experiencing.
He voted for the ordinance with the condition that the council would reexamine the increase if the construction bid for the project came in below the city’s estimate of $25 million. The bidding process for construction should begin in December, with a winner selected by February.
“I just think it’s a bad time to do it; however, with the infrastructure the way it is, we’re kind of put in a tough spot,” he said. “For me, at least, a yes vote is contingent upon the bid process. I want to know, if we are overcharging, then I would like to see the fees go back to the residents of Tracy.”
Councilwoman Nancy Young asked what happens if the bid is less than the estimated costs and Bayley said the city can conduct a new rates study or keep that money for future projects that will inevitably happen.
“It’s desirable to charge the true cost of service,” Bayley said. “But we have to estimate it right now and we can’t dial it down.”
- Contact Joel Danoy at 830-4229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.