Council approves water rate increase after few customers file protests

MARTINEZ, Calif. – With just 26 water customers objecting, when at least 5,000 protests would have been needed to block the move, the Martinez City Council voted Wednesday to increase water rates.

The increases are based on a recent study of operation costs, the first such analysis since 2007. Consultant Tommy Pavletic, of Municipal Financial Services, urged the Council to conduct those studies more frequently, so the city can keep tabs on changing costs.

Overall, rates go up 9 percent annually during each of the next five years.

The new rates divide the city into four zones, based on elevation because it costs more to move water upward, Pavletic and Interim City Engineer Randy Leptien explained.

Starting Jan. 1, 2020, the per-unit water rate in the lowest, Zone 1, for those living at an elevation of 150 feet or lower, would rise from $4.50 to $5.03; Zone 2, those from 151 to 300 feet, from $4.78 to $5.22; Zone 3, for those 301 to 450 feet, from $4.97 to $5.37; and Zone 4, for those above 450 feet,from $5.26 to $5.38.

A unit is 100 cubic feet of water, or about 748 gallons. Those rates would continue to rise through 2024.

Starting Jan. 1, 2021, the new usage rate would be $5.54 for Zone 1, $5.75 for Zone 2, $5.90 for Zone 3 and $6.12 in Zone 4; starting Jan. 1, 2022, the rates rise to $6.12 in Zone 1, $6.33 in Zone 2, $6.49 for Zone 3 and $6.72 for Zone 4.

Starting Jan. 1, 2023, Zone 1 customers would pay $6.74; Zone 2, $6.97; Zone 3, $7.13; and Zone 4, $7.38. In 2024, rates rise again, to $7.43 for Zone 1, $7.66 for Zone 2, $7.83 for Zone 3 and $8.09 for Zone 4.

Meter charges also will be increasing. These two-month rates are based on the size of the meters. Most of which are 5/8 inch, since most of the city’s water customers are residents rather than companies.

The lowest two-month rate, for Lifeline residential customers, will be $34.75 starting Jan. 1, 2020 At the same time, full rates would go up to $69.50; 1-inch with fire service would be $91; plain 1-inch, $120; 1.5 inch, $204; 2-inch, $305; 3-inch, $574; 4-inch, $876; 6-inch, $1,720; 8-inch, $3,060; 10-inch, $4,910; and, should the city ever get a customer who needs such a large meter, 12-inch, $7,260.

Lifeline customers would see their rates rise in subsequent years to $37.75 in 2021; $40.75 in 2022; $4.25 in 2023; $48 in 2024; 5/8-inch full rates would go up to $75.50 in 2021; $81.50 in 2022; $88.50 in 2023 and $96 in 2024.

One-inch rates go up in successive years from $130 in 2021; $141 in 2022; $152.50 in 2023; and $125 in 2024. Those with 1.5-inch meters will see rates rise from $221 in 2021; $239 in 2022; $259 in 2023; and $281 in 2024.

Two-inch meter rates would be $330 in 2021; $358 in 2022; $388 in 2023; and $420 in 2024.Three-inch meter rates would be $621 in 2021; $673 in 2022; $730 in 2023; and $790 in 2024.

Four-inch meter rates would be $949 in 2021; $1,028 in 2022; $1,114 in 2023; and $1,206 in 2024. Six-inch meter rates would be $1,860 in 2021; $2,010 in 2022; $2,180 in 2023; and $2,360 in 2024. Eight-inch meter rates would be $3,310 in 2021; $3,590 in 2022; $3,890 in 2023; and $4,210 in 2024.

The 10-inch rates would be $5,320 in 2021; $5,760 in 2022; $6,240 in 2023; and $6,760 in 2024. While there is no 12-inch meter customer, the rates would be $7,860 in 2021; $8,520 in 2022; $9,230 in 2023; and $9,990 in 2024.

The city also has private fire protection service charges, also billed very two months and based on meters. Those fees gradually rise from $114 in 2020 to $157 in 2024 for those with 2-inch meters; from $227 to $313 for those with 3-inch meters; from $355 to $488 for those with 4-inch meters, from $709 to $976 for those with 6-inch meters; from $1,280 to $1,760 for those with 8-inch meters; from $2,060 to $2,830 for those with 10-inch meters and from $3,050 to $4,200 for those with 12-inch meters.

The city is required to have backflow prevention, to stop delivered water from getting back into the delivery system. Those charges also are paid two months at a time by users based on meter size.

Those up to one inch would pay $35 starting next year, and see the rates rise to $39 by 2024; those 1.24, 1.5 inch and 2-inch rates go from $55 in 2020 to $62 in 2024; 2.5 rates go from $73 in 2021 to $81 in 2024; 3-inch rates go from $89 in 2020 to $99 in 2024; 4-inch rates from $93 in 2020 to $104 in 2024; 6-inch rates from $144 in 2020 to $160 in 2024; 8-inch rates from $191 in 2020 to $211 in 2024; and 10-inch rates, from $228 in 2020 to $251 in 2024.

The city’s water enterprise fund is expected to work like a business, with revenues covering operating and maintenance costs, capital costs and debt service obligations.

Customers were sent notices of the proposal, and 45 days, including during the public hearing, to file their objections. According to Proposition 2018, if 50 percent plus one had filed qualified protests, the process could have been halted.

Of about 10,000 customers, 27 filed objections, of which 26 were found valid.

Part of the upcoming expenses will be replacement of aging equipment. The city is anticipating about $22 million in capital improvement projects, funded in part by water rates and by a new $10 million debt issue.

Councilmember Mark Ross noted that unlike some public systems, in which chemicals are used to purify water, Martinez bought then state-of-the-art ozone purification equipment in the 1990s.

But the equipment has a lifespan, and it needs to be replaced, he said.

The city’s pipes also are aging, unable to withstand the pressures of the ground’s expanding and contracting during weather changes. The Webster Street hydro system also needs to be replaced, and other infrastructure needs to be modernized or upgraded.

Even with the increases, Martinez’s rates will be lower than those in Brentwood and Bay Point. Rates would be lower than that of the Contra Costa Water District, from which Martinez buys its water. But switching directly to that water could drive rates even higher, Pavletic.

Some residents worried that increases were going from a set 5 percent increase during the past few years to the 9 percent hike, and they chided the city for not setting money aside in anticipation of infrastructure replacement.

Pavletic was sympathetic with those worried about the increases, but noted that the rate increases factored in ongoing conservation. Most households use eight units of water, he said. If customers found ways to cut back water use by 25 gallons a day, they could end up paying the same amount as they do now, he suggested.

When one speaker suggested the city adopt rate structures similar to those employed in Southern California, he described how Southern California systems benefit from a much larger customer base, but that rates are based on multiple factors, including testing of its microclimates, including rates of evapotranspiration. Martinez would have to make hefty investments to adopt those strategies, he said.

In other matters, the Council introduced an ordinance that would mark the final step in ending the troublesome Martinez-Pleasant Hill Joint Facility Agreement that began in the 1970s, apparently as a way to invest in computer equipment.

The new ordinance would merge the agreement’s employee benefits package with those of the city.

That’s more of a paperwork technicality, since the city already has negotiated an agreement with California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) that limited the city’s liability to three years’ worth of employee benefits.

For many years, certain municipal employees were classified as employees of the joint facilities agreement, an approach that was determined years later to be inappropriate.

The Council approved assessments for eight landscaping and lighting districts. Mayor Rob Schroder and Glasser said represent no changes from the previous year. The districts are Village Oaks Terrace, Muir Station, Creekside, Brittany Hills, Vista Oaks, Center Martinez, Terra Vista and Alhambra Estates.

Acting as the Board of Directors of Contra Costa County Sanitation District No. 6, the Council approved an ordinance maintaining sewer rates for the district.

The Council also approved introducing an amendment to its commercial cannabis ordinance to accommodate Firefly, a company that prior to adoption of that ordinance had applied to open a dispensary.

That application was put on hold while the city struggled to define the term “youth center,” since the company wants to open its dispensary next to a gym that said it caters primarily to youth. However, the Council accepted the Planning Commission’s definition, a place that caters exclusively to minors, and incorporated it in the new law.

Although Firefly would need to apply again under the new procedures, fees would be waived and preference would be given to the company if it meets all the requirements.

The Council confirmed Schroder’s appointment of Susan Gustofson to the Planning Commission, succeeding Gabriel Lemus.

On the consent calendar, the Council accepted the bid from McGuire and Hester for $2,573,971 for the 2019-21 on-call repair and resurfacing of certain streets and agreeing to hire Jacobs Engineers for $59,000for construction support as part of the city’s overall effort to maintain and repair its streets using Measure D sales tax revenues; approved a nearly $1.6 million contract with Star Construction of San Bruno for improvements to Alhambra Park, Golden Hills Park, Highland Avenue Park and John Muir Park, using voter-approved Measure H bond revenues; agreed to a a memorandum of understanding with the Martinez Police Officers Association that would last through June 30, 2020; and modified the Management Compensation Plan for employees who aren’t in a recognized bargaining group.

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