The City of Hanford owns its municipal water delivery system.
During its December 15 meeting, the Hanford city council voted 3-2 in favor of raising Hanford’s water rates over a period of four years. Mayor Justin Mendes and Councilmembers David Ayers and Russ Curry voted in favor, while Councilmembers Gary Pannett and Francisco Ramirez voted against.
The vote for approval means that water rates will go up by 62% on January 1, 2016. Rates will then increase again by 9% on the beginning of the fiscal year, July 1st. Rates are scheduled to go up again by 9% in July of 2017, and in July of 2018, for a total of 89%.
Deputy Public Works Director, John Doyle, made a presentation demonstrating why such a drastic rate hike was necessary. First, for a myriad of reasons, Hanford has not raised its rates since 2007. Second, the state mandated that Hanford reduce its water use by 28%. While Hanford has only reduced water use by an average of 18%, the reduction in revenue will result in a $93,000 deficit in 2016, and the deficit will get worse every year. Also, the infrastructure needed to pump and deliver water does not get any less expensive just because people reduce their use in water. He also said that if a well went down tomorrow there would not be enough money in the reserves to dig a new one.
Another contributing factor was that Hanford is the only city in California that did not chlorinate its water. The state mandated that the city start when testing came back that their water may be contaminated. Installing a chlorination system cost the city $800,000, and will cost $240,000 a year to implement.
Public Comment during the hearing was unanimously against the increase, except for longtime resident John Zumwalt. He wholeheartedly supported the increase. He said that the City of Tulare–emblematic of just this sort of situation–has ignored its infrastructure for 40 years, and its water system was terrible and completely unreliable.
“I hope you choose to invest in the system,” he said to the council.
A public notice was sent out in October and many residents at first thought it was a mistake. Victor Flores said that when he got his notice he thought it was a typo. The general consensus of the speakers was that it is too much–and too fast–for seniors, the unemployed or anyone on a fixed income. It was also pointed out that 19.5% of Hanford residents live beneath the poverty line. Another complaint was that the citizens needed more information, and that a citizen’s committee should have been formed to educate themselves and the residents about Hanford’s water situation.
Earnst Lopez said he understood that Hanford was “up against a wall,” but that it was ironic that the city’s seal says, “Working For a Better Tomorrow”– because that is exactly what did not happen.
After the public hearing was closed Hanford City Clerk, Jennifer Gomez, reported that there were 115 letters of protest and none in favor. Out of those who spoke during the public hearing, 11 were against and one was in favor. The matter was then turned over to the council for a vote.
Mayor Mendes expounded on Lopez’ point saying that he believes past city councils kicked the can down the road for too long and that was why he was voting for the increase. Ayers was upset that rates had not gone up before and said the increase is too much. Still, he reluctantly voted in favor. Curry said he was voting for the increase because Hanford had hit a perfect storm of reduced revenue along with increased costs.
Pannett and Ramirez voted against the increase because, they said, the council did not do its due diligence in informing the public and that the rate increase should be more gradual.
“We should have planned for this years ago. I feel for the citizens so I can’t vote for this.” said Pannett.