By Carolyn Barbre
Four people spoke at the April 13 Lindsay City Council meeting against raising water, sewer and refuse rates. However, after council members, City Manager Scot Townsend and Finance Director Kenny Walker further explained the situation, it seemed most left convinced that increase in rates was a small price to pay for new streets.
The increase of 5.9 percent will go into effect in June and will show up on the July bills for water, sewer and refuse. This will be followed by additional increases of 5.9 percent on the following three years, also in July.
Perhaps Mayor Pro Tem Pam Kimball said it best. "I think this is money we're going to charge ourselves to spend on ourselves. It will save money. There are no options. I'm all for it."
Initially against the increase was a resident from East Lewis Street who said his bills were disproportionately high. He suggested perhaps the meter had been misread.
Timothy Daubert complained that increasing utilities while gas prices were skyrocketing would "hit the poor and elderly more than anyone else."
Townsend said seniors on a fixed income can receive a rebate.
Lindsay CPA Dennis Hylton, who opposed the last rate increase, took the podium and thanked the council for the street plan. He said his only concern had to do with refuse collection because the present contract stated that the contractor receives 77 cents of every dollar charged for collection and the city keeps the rest. "What contractual change has been made so that this does not become a windfall for the contractor?" he asked the council.
Townsend said there is some debate about redoing the contract, but he said rate increases would not go to the contractor. "Every single dime is going to improve the physical aspects of every single neighborhood in this town," he said in no uncertain terms.
Irma Arrollo with the Migrant Photography Project and Ahora was the last person to offer an opinion on increased rates. "First I want to say that Lindsay with the new plaza and Hermosa Street [improvements] is beautiful," she said.
Arrollo then told the council that Lindsay water bills are high. "We pay a lot and they have to buy water for drinking because the tap water is not healthy. We use tap water for other things in the home. People working in the fields sometimes don't have enough money to eat. We want to know more about all of these issues. Many people who speak only Spanish cannot come here and say what they think. I want to have a meeting where everybody can say what they think."
Councilman Steve Velasquez was the first to respond. "We have plenty of translators here," he said.
"It is good to hear you say that. I will tell the people," Arrollo responded.
Mayor Ed Murray said in his 28 years in Lindsay his family has never bought bottled water.
Townsend agreed."We have very expensive water in Lindsay that we buy from the Friant-Kern Canal and then treat chemically. People's perceptions are that it doesn't taste the same but it is safe." He said the only time there have been problems is when the canal was shut down for a month or two and they had to go back to using well water.
Arrollo said the water reports come in English which is another problem. "We don't want everything, but we want something to understand."
Walker later explained that when the canal is shut down the city has three wells it can use for water, only one of which has unacceptable levels of nitrates. Depending on the time of the year, such as if it is in the wet season, the first two wells will probably suffice. However, if it is in the dry season the city needs to use all three wells. When they have to use the well with a high nitrate level, they are mandated by law to send out notification in both Spanish and English.
Townsend summed up the situation regarding a rate increase. "We've looked at different ways of financing our road improvements. One way was to franchise utilities because we're not receiving enough money [back from the state and in sales tax] We want to resurface every street and alley in Lindsay. There is a cost to every citizen who uses those services." Townsend said the packing houses use more water and sewer services and they also use the roads more with their big trucks so they pay more.
"This will physically enhance the city and property values will increase. If we do it piecemeal, it will continue to deteriorate," he said.
Velasquez said in his eight years on the council there has been a lot of talk about fixing the streets, but not much has been done to date. He said fixing the streets would change everything for the city. "I have a lot of poor friends that work in the fields picking oranges. We've talked about this. They say we need to fix the roads. Some are really happy, especially after seeing projects completed like Hermosa and Sweet Brier."
Murray said that cities get no money from the federal or state government for streets. "Each year the state takes more of our money and holds it in Sacramento." He said nobody wanted to increase fees, but that was the only way things would improve. "We've talked to a lot of people in the community. When we say the money will be used for streets and streets only, they're very pleased."
Walker said the city had received no negative letters or calls about the increase although property owners had been notified of the proposed increase. If more than 50 percent of property owners object, no increase can be made. "The bottom line is the city will go out and seek funding immediately to start our street projects," he said.
The council voted unanimously to revise water, sewer and refuse rates.
If a property owner has a 5/8 or 3/4 inch meter (which is 82 percent of all accounts) their current water rate is $13.86 plus usage. The new rate will be $14.68 plus usage. Usage rates are now 71 cents for each 100 cubic feet over the first 500 cubic feet of water. That will increase to 75 cents. Sewer rates will go from $25.30 to $26.79 per month. Basic residential trash collection will go from $15.77 per month to $16.70.
In other council business: