Sonora, CA – Tuolumne Utilities District’s (T.U.D.) Board of Directors voted unanimously in favor of rate increases but not before hearing strong opposition from customers that packed a public hearing at the utilities headquarters.
The Board’s approval means water and sewer rates will gradually increase over the coming five years to pay for capital improvements and nearly two million in conservation measure losses. For example, the current minimum monthly fixed charge for water use would increase from $36.38 to $47.50 by next year. It would go up to $64.50 by the year 2020.
Nineteen customers spoke, with eighteen voicing their strong objection to the rate increases with one summing up the crowds overall opinion that the hike is “outrageous.” Some customers were concerned about those on a fixed income being able to pay; others argued the fairness of the increase stating they did their part by conserving water, yet will be forced to pay more for less. Still another questioned, “You [T.U.D.] said on your five year plan you would start to catch up on the year 2020…So, are we going to get a decrease in 2020-21? Because if you’re catching up at that rate, you should have some money left over.”
The only proponent, who voiced an opinion in favor of the rate jump, was former T.U.D. General Manager Tom Scesa who angrily challenged those who called for staff salary cuts, stating employees already gave up benefits and wages. Amid some boos and jeers from the crowd, he argued, “I really want to strongly point out that less than two percent of anyone has voted against this. So, the majority of the population wants a rate increase.”
Director Ron Kopf told customers that no one the board “wanted this public relations nightmare”. He went on to say, “None of us sitting here wanted to raise rates to where they are or were even proposed. We wanted them to be much lower than that, but at the same time, there was a water leak in downtown Sonora where someone said this is the third time that broke in the last decade and why hasn’t T.U.D. fixed that. It’s very difficult; nobody is up here saying we want to see everybody have a hardship.”
Besides approving the rate increase, the board also unanimously approved the draft Capital Improvement Plan for 2015.