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Water Rates Increase Despite Public Opposition

You´ll be paying more for your water starting in August.

It was shown last night that the Tuolumne Utilities District operates at a deficit of nearly $6,000 per day. And, when other increasing costs are factored in, it comes out to a $1.7 million shortfall through the end of April 2004.

The presentation and public forum went on for nearly four hours, as residents overwhelmingly supported delaying the vote, until other alternatives to the 37-percent rate increase could be explored.

Residents like Carla Suehowicz pointed out that even some of the board members didn´t fully comprehend all of the numbers presented last night. She mentioned that the board president, Ralph Retherford, wasn´t clear on all of the statistics.

“He doesn´t know yet how you´re coming up with it. So maybe we should have another public meeting, and I know we could all bring twenty more people to help out here. I mean, I´d like to help out,” said Suehowicz, who added that the increases will hit nearly everyone hard. “You stated that you really haven´t received too many complaints, and those have been from people with fixed incomes. Well, I´m speaking for young families with kids, senior citizens, and baby boomers like me, that when we have a budget, it´s fixed!”

And resident Glenn Babros agreed, and said while a price increase may be unavoidable…

“If I was a business owner, and I ran my business this way, I´d be out of business. You have to increase over time. You have to do it gradually. You don´t do it all at once, because if you do that, you won´t have any customers. Well, in this case, a lot of us don´t have any choice,” Babros said.

It may be a no-win situation, said TUD General Manager Gary Egger, who pointed at the state for implementing new requirements but providing no financial help.

“What we don´t have a handle on, is unfunded mandates, things that the state says you have to do but they don´t give you the money to do it. And when we talk to the legislators about it, they´re very up-front. They say, ´Yup, but all you have to do is raise rates.´ And we´re going, ´Well, now wait a minute´,” Egger told the audience Tuesday night.

But in the end, board member Jim Costello made the motion, board member Judy Delbon seconded it, and all five board members voted to increase water rates by 37 percent.

The motion also included a provision to reexamine some numbers related to the cost of raw water to customers such as golf courses, as well as a possible special water rate for low-income customers.

The rate hikes take effect in August.

The typical household´s bill will jump from around $23 a month to about $32 per month.