Manfredi says years of low rates have created problems
If you were hoping a recent examination of water rates in Madera would lead to lower water bills, you can give up that hope.
The city water rates have more than doubled in some cases over the past two years or so, leading some critics to wonder whether the income from water charges is being misused.
But that does not appear to be the case. In fact, it appears rates and developer impact fees were kept so low the city almost became unable to make the payments on its water bonds or maintain its aging infrastructure.
A recent analysis of the costs to provide water to residents in the city of Madera has brought to light some serious omissions by city administrators and elected officials, namely the failure to charge sufficient developer fees over the last two to three decades according to newly hired consultant Ron Manfredi.
Manfredi, a municipal consultant and former city manager of Kerman and former assistant city administrator of Madera, was hired to review the issue of water, among other things, by the Madera City Council after the retirement of former city administrator David Tooley in December. Madera water bills are significantly higher than surrounding Central Valley cities, according to residents.
The amount the city collects for furnishing water has doubled from approximately $5 million in 2015 to a projected $10 million in 2018, according to city revenue reports.
By undercharging or not charging development fees the city has failed to cover its water delivery and infrastructure costs, Manfredi said, resulting in higher-than-average water rates for Madera now, and also for the foreseeable future.
“It’s a case of pay me now, or pay me later,” Manfredi said, referring to the costs of operating a municipal water system. Not planning for and collecting appropriate developer fees on new homes only postponed the costs and shifted them to current residents, even during the boom times of rapid housing and economic expansion from 2000 to 2007 in Madera.
The Manfredi report references several water studies requested and paid for by the city, some from as recently as 2010. Manfredi did not speak to where the failure occurred but noted the consultants studies were accurate in his opinion, just not acted upon by past city officials or councils. The water situation became critical in 2015, the study said, with water fund reserves being all but depleted, prompting the increases in water rates, and major increases in developer impact fees are warranted now, he said.
The full report by Manfredi can be read on the City of Madera’s website, under city council agenda and reports, at https://www.cityofmadera.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Agenda-040418-Combined.pdf.