At the regular City Council ouncil meeting on Tuesday, a resolution was passed approving the water and sewer rates adjustments. The new rates will become effective on Feb. 1.
A public hearing was held to allow residents to express their thoughts on the rate adjustments. Before that, notices were mailed to customers, informing them that they could submit protest letters.
The protest letters were tabulated, but it wasn't the majority of customers, which is required to withhold power of the council to move forward and vote on the rate adjustments, which they did in favor of them.
Leading up to this, the City of Wasco contracted Lechowicz & Tseng Municipal Consultants to complete a comprehensive utility rate study for the water and sewer enterprises.
The objective was to recommend utility rates that ensure the continued financial health and stability of the city's water and wastewater enterprise funds while mitigating the impact of any proposed rates on customers. Consultant Alison Lechowicz presented the final analysis and proposed rate adjustments for approval by the council.
It was recommended that the water and sewer enterprises implement minor, inflationary revenue increases each year to keep up with continuing cost increases and future regulatory burdens.
Further, with the plan presented by the consulting firm, the city needs to revise its utility rate structures to more equitably recover costs and to conform with state water conservation guidelines, Lechowicz said.
Water rates were last increased in 2015, and sewer rates were last increased in 2007.
With the new rate schedule, a single-family residential fee would see a decrease in water allotment with an associated reduction in the minimum monthly service.
Currently, a single-family residential fee has a monthly base volume allotment (ccf) of 25 with a monthly service fee of $28.60.
One ccf is equivalent to 748 gallons.
The allotment and rates for February 2023 will be an allotment of 21 ccf with a fee of $29.38.
For July 2023, the allotment would be reduced to 17 ccf for a decrease in fee of $27.55.
For July 2024 total allotted would move down to 13 ccf and with a fee decrease to $25.72.
July 2025 would see a decrease in water allotment to 10 ccf and a reduction to $23.89; for July 2026, there will be an allotted seven ccf and a fee of $20.23.
Currently, for those going over the water allotment, there is an additional cost of $4.03 per ccf.
In February 2023, it would be $1.50 per ccf, $1.81 in July 2023, $2.12 in July 2024, $2.43 in July 2025 and $2.72 in July 2026.
For the proposed sewer rates, the monthly increase for a single-family residence will go from the current fee of $23.78 to $24.43 in February, $25.08 in July, $25.73 in July 2024, $26.38 in July 2025 and $27.05 in July 2026.
Different water fees and allotments for commercial, schools and other water users align with the trends above. Similarly, this applies to the monthly sewer rates.
Councilmember Gilberto Reyna said, "The state mandated that we reduce water consumption and have no choice but to do it."
City Manager Scott Hurlbert noted, "While complying with state-mandated reduction targets, the proposed water rate structure does give each customer more control over their water bill. Those that choose to conserve aggressively can actually reduce their overall bill."
"We would prefer not to have the rate adjustment, but it is a must to keep providing the service that we provide to the residents and meeting the state-mandated water conversation guidelines," Public Works Director Luis Villa said.
Also, at the meeting, the council approved a resolution to extend the "pay for vaccination" program where those Wasco residents that get vaccinated receive a $50 gift card.
Previously 500 gift cards were distributed, and another 500 will be issued with the resolution.
"Vaccines lose potency against the virus over time, and variants arise that can better resist the vaccines, so continued boosters are needed to continue to prevent illness and death," Reyna said, referring to a Washington Post article published in November,
He added that in December, the Reuters news service reported that over 40% of covid-19 cases in the United States were caused by the highly contagious Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 and data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed the subvariant doubling in cases from the previous week.
"Only 242 people, 1.8% of the eligible Wasco population, have received the latest booster, and only 47.50% have completed their primary shots series, making Wasco still the lowest vaccinated community in North Kern," Reyna said.
"Many in our community are disadvantaged; they work near each other and work in conditions that are conducive to spreading disease. Continuing the $50 Visa incentive program is an investment that will help us improve the vaccination rate in Wasco and support many of our residents to avoid severe illness or death from covid-19."