Reedley OKs water rate increase, touts quality system

Reedley City Council approves rate increase to keep revenue flowing to its water system, highlights reliability of well-maintained water infrastructure

Members of the Reedley City Council listen to the results of the water rate study conducted by HDR Engineering at a public hearing in the Reedley City Council Chambers June 11, 2024. The council unanimously voted to increase water rates over the next two years to keep pace with rising utility costs. (Serena Bettis)
Serena Bettis
Published June 13, 2024  • 
10:00 am

REEDLEY – Reedley residents should brace for higher water bills this summer now that the city council has moved forward with a significant rate increase in order to keep the city’s water system financially solvent. 

While all council members agreed they do not like to raise rates even incrementally, the Reedley City Council unanimously approved the water rate increases after a public hearing on June 11. Notice of the rate increase was sent out to residents 45 days in advance in compliance with California Proposition 218, but the city received no written or oral protest to the rate increase. 

“I don’t like it, but we have a lot of other factors that play into this, and … the state doesn’t give us money to pay for all these testings that they mandate that we do, so we’re trying to do what’s right, but it’s gonna be hard for some families that are on fixed incomes and low incomes to make this work,” Councilmember Mary Fast said. 

Water rates will increase by approximately 12% to 13% beginning on July 1 of this year and will increase again by the same amount on July 1 of next year. After that, rates will increase annually based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). 

Both the flat fee charged based on the size of a customer’s water meter and the fee charged per 1,000 gallons of water used will be impacted by this rate increase. For standard, three-quarter inch and one inch water meters, the flat rate will increase from $37.67 to $42.36 this year and from $42.36 to $47.87 next year. 

For residential and nonresidential customers, the charge — per 1,000 gallons — for usage up to 15,000 gallons will increase from $1.20 to $1.29, and then to $1.46; the charge for 15,000 to 25,000 gallons will increase from $1.25 to $1.55, and then to $1.75; and the charge for more than 25,000 gallons will increase from $1.30 to $1.64, and then to $1.86. Irrigation rates, regardless of usage, will increase from $1.38 to $1.66, and then to $1.88. 

Overall, the average residential customer who has a three-quarter inch or one-inch meter will see the following monthly increase on their water bill depending on water usage: $5.14 for 5,000 gallons, $5.58 for 10,000 gallons, $6.03 for 15,000 gallons, $7.52 for 20,000 gallons and $10.71 for 30,000 gallons.

Although there were no protests to the rate increases, one member of the public did ask why the city’s water rates are higher than some neighboring cities, including Fresno and Clovis. Public Works Director Russ Robertson said that one reason behind this is because of economies of scale; Fresno has a much larger population than Reedley, and even though it may be delivering more water, the distribution of that cost across more customers makes it cheaper for each customer. 

Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba did note, however, that neighboring cities, including Clovis, are looking at rate and fee increases for water and other utilities that are significantly higher than the increases coming to Reedley. Further, Zieba said Reedley’s rates “are what they are” because of decisions the council has made in the past 20 years to upgrade its facilities. 

“I think it’s very important for our community to know that our water system is completely reliable, has great pressure, you turn the tap, it’s there, you flush the toilet, it goes away,” Zieba said. “You may recall that even Walmart had to shut down … because the city of Sanger did not keep up. They kicked the can down the road, they didn’t want to raise rates, and their systems are falling apart.”

Rates in Reedley last saw an increase higher than the CPI in 2016, when they rent up by 9%. Annual increases remained steady at 2.5% or less between 2017 and 2021 because the rate structure approved in 2016 allowed for increases based on the CPI but capped the increase at 2.5%. 

Noting that inflation was outpacing that limit and hindering the city’s ability to keep up with its increased costs of operating the water system, the city council removed the 2.5% limit in 2022 and rates have increased by the actual CPI for the last few years — 4.1% in 2022 and 5.6% in 2023. 

“Our council has made prudent, wise decisions — hard ones, it’s hard to raise rates, particularly when we have a low income community — but we have kept up with the needs so that we have a reliable water system and it is safe,” Zieba said. 

Having not raised rates beyond small inflationary increases since 2016, the city brought in consulting firm HDR Engineering to conduct a new study and see how well it has been recovering the costs of delivering water to residents. The council approved the results of the water rate study and set the Proposition 218 public hearing at its meeting on March 26. 

State law requires the city to justify rate increases through comprehensive rate studies that analyze operational costs and evenly distribute them to different customer groups, such as residential and nonresidential. This process provides a detailed look at why rates increase and allows residents the opportunity to ensure they are being charged fairly and protest the increase if they feel it is unjust.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter