Tracy’s water bills are going up again, with ratepayers to see a 25% increase from what they pay today on their November utility bills.
It’s the second rate increase in less than two years as the city tries to close a funding gap between what it costs to keep the tap water flowing and the revenue the city collects through water bills. The City Council approved the rate increase on a 4-0-1 vote, with Councilwoman Veronica Vargas absent.
All water users — homes, businesses and apartment buildings — will see the rate hike. For those living in a typical single-family home, the basic bill will go up from $32.80 a month to $41 a month, with residents paying more if they use water beyond the 1,500 cubic feet — 11,220 gallons — represented in the baseline bill.
It’s the second rate increase to be based on a 2017 study into the costs of running the city’s water treatment and delivery system. Until then, the basic water bill in Tracy was $26.70, a rate that had stayed the same since 2008. When the city raised rates in November 2017, it did so with the expectation that another rate increase would be needed 18 months later.
The city gets its water mostly from the South San Joaquin Irrigation District, which delivers water by way of a pipeline from Woodward Reservoir, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which supplies water through the Delta-Mendota Canal. The city also has wells around town to supply groundwater.
City utilities director Kul Sharma told the council that the cost of water contracts with the two water agencies, along with the cost of treating and delivering that water to Tracy users, represented just part of the increase.
“Our infrastructure is getting old,” Sharma told the council, adding that many pipelines throughout the city were 50 or more years old and due for replacement or upgrades. “We also need to complete capital improvement projects, which we have deferred for the past five or six years, and this is all to make our system more reliable.”
The city’s water enterprise fund, the part of the municipal budget that collects bills and pays for operation of the water treatment plant, was expected to take in nearly $16.7 million for fiscal 2019-20. The cost to buy, treat and deliver water to users was estimated at about $17.7 million, representing a budget shortfall of about $1 million.
Sharma said the city was also looking at about $6 million worth of construction and upgrades to the city’s treatment and delivery systems.
Nearly $4.5 million worth of projects planned for this year will include $915,000 to repair and upgrade a city well, $400,000 for an upgrade to the city’s ultraviolet disinfection system at the water treatment plant, and $2.4 million worth of new water pipelines along Lammers Road to serve the Ellis residential development and the Cordes Ranch-International Park of Commerce business development.
About $1.5 million also is expected to be spent this year and next year for improvements to the water clarification system at the treatment plant.
Before voting, the council had to consider public protests as a factor in whether to raise rates. A 50% protest rate would have been sufficient to reject the rate increase. With about 35,000 property owners in town, the number of actual written protests — City Clerk Adrianne Richardson counted 28 — was insignificant.
Only a few people came out to protest the rate hike.
“It’s outrageous what people pay for rent, almost $2,000, and mortgages, forget it. It’s even higher,” said one woman. “The average utility bill is about $100 a month. Add that with the mortgage and rent.
“You guys should find the funds somewhere else, or put it on the ballot, because these are families. I’m ashamed of Tracy because there’s no one here to protest except me. But they get their bill, they’re going to start crying.”