FREMONT -- For the 12th consecutive year, Tri-City-area residents soon might be asked to dig deeper into their wallets for water, and it likely won't be the last time.
The Alameda County Water District, which has increased rates each year since 2003, is proposing yet another hike so that it is able to supply "safe, reliable water to 336,000 customers in Fremont, Newark and Union City," said Walt Wadlow, the agency's general manager since 2009. "The increases will allow ACWD to offset rising costs, as well as create long-term financial sustainability."
The Water District's five-member board will consider the proposal Thursday night. If approved, the average residential customer in 2014 would pay $109.53 every two months, an increase of 7 percent in customers' bimonthly bills, Wadlow said.
Those rates will generate about $5 million this year, but not nearly enough to defray costs stemming from future employee retirement costs, as well as construction projects, agency leaders said.
The Water District, which has 238 full-time employees and 10 part-time workers, is on the hook for nearly $130 million in future costs for pensions and health benefits for retired employees.
It also must replace 800 miles of aging pipelines, which agency leaders have said will cost around $400 million. At least 20 percent of those pipes were installed before 1960, and some of them are on fault lines. Construction began this year on the retrofit program, which will remain in effect "every single year for the foreseeable future," Wadlow said. "We want to replace those pipes before they break."
As a result of those expenditures, agency leaders say annual rate hikes likely will continue.
The cities of Fremont, Newark and Union City are among the Water District's biggest customers, which means that many residents' wallets get hit twice, as rate hikes take an even bigger bite out of city tax dollars.
In mid-2012, Fremont's water bill was nearly $803,000, Assistant Public Works Director Norm Hughes said. Two years later, the city's annual tab might be as high as $1.1 million. Likewise, Newark's water bill this year is projected at nearly $330,000, up from around $297,000 in 2012, said City Manager John Becker. Union City's water bill jumped from $146,000 in 2012 to around $400,000 this year, Public Works Director Mintze Cheng said.
Wadlow said the agency has received about 50 letters protesting the rate hikes. One of them was from Eric Tsai, a Fremont resident who questions the agency's spending. Tsai notes that the board recently approved spending $219,000 to publish two books in celebration of the Water District's 100-year anniversary.
"That's a waste of our money," he said.
Tsai said that though agency leaders responded to his protest letter, he has lost faith that his complaints will bring change.
"I think the process is just for show. Each time, they say they need the money and then they just start raising rates," he said. "It's a flawed system."
Wadlow defended the planned history books, saying the Water District is looking for sponsors to defray their costs. "We think it's an important story to be told," he said. "Water underlies the success of southern Alameda County and (the books) will educate the public and help them make wise decisions about water in the future."
The Water District board will discuss the issue at Thursday's 6 p.m. meeting at the agency's headquarters, 43885 S. Grimmer Blvd.
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.
The Alameda County Water District Board on Thursday will consider increasing rates by 7 percent in 2014. A meeting on the issue will begin at 6 p.m. in the District headquarters board room, 43885 S. Grimmer Blvd., Fremont. For more information, call 510-668-4200.