Some of the residents who first objected to rising city water and sewer rates and some city administrative salaries of more than $300,000 returned and wanted answers from their new city council Wednesday night.
It had been more than a year, they said, since residents discovered they were paying some of the highest water and sewer rates and the highest salary and benefits packages to top city employees in the Central Valley, and demanded changes in the face of a looming million-dollar-plus city deficit.
An overflow crowd of residents in January of 2018 accused the City Council and city staff of feathering their own nests and raising rates and fees to increase city revenues and shifting operational costs to the backs of Madera residents through rising water and sewer rates
Business owner Khalid Chaudhry spoke from the podium Wednesday night and said, “We started this struggle about (city) corruption and incompetence in December of 2017. So we have a new city council and my question is what has been done about executive salaries since then? Why has not one overpaid person been let go in all this time? Why has the city not sued the chemical companies that polluted our water like other cities have? Instead our overpaid people have passed the huge costs of new wells to water ratepayers. And now we have to drill new wells costing millions of dollars. Enough is enough. Abuse of Measure K (sales tax) money with still no transparency (publication of) or residents oversight of how these millions of dollars are being spent. Had the (previous) city manager and city staff been doing their jobs and collecting developer fees Measure K would not have been necessary.” Chaudhry said.
Chaudhry, also a long time critic of the mayor and the Madera Municipal Golf Course asked, “with an annual deficit of $600,000 or more ... why are the poorest taxpayers here burdened with a golf course they don’t use? And where did the money from the golf course refinancing go? And why is the Mayor allowed to do any amount of business with the city? It is clearly a violation of the city code of ethics everyone else has to follow.”
Chaudhry implored the council to remember the tumultuous events of the last year which included residents’ protests in front of city hall and the recall efforts. “Please have the courage to clean up this mess like the voters elected you to do. We are counting on you,” he said.
Resident Ron Montoya said the city was paying what he called major league, large salaries to city staff and it has to stop “The voters spoke in November and they will continue to speak. It was a great turnout. I want to give you guys a chance but there are consequences.” Montoya said the (higher special district tax) policies implemented in his neighborhood have caused some residents to have to refinance, not water their yards or even sell their homes and move out because they couldn’t afford the higher tax rates.
Montoya also noted that Mayor Andrew Medellin reportedly had a $96,000 federal tax lien filed against him in 2018 in the Madera County Recorder’s office. “How can you expect us ... you should be held to a higher standard ... my neighbors sold their homes because of the Mello Roos (special tax). It’s embarrassing ... Madera deserves better than this,” Montoya said.
Longtime business owner Kay Rhoads said she has appeared before the council numerous times, and it seemed to her that little or nothing has changed in the last year. “I am still asking you guys about (reducing) the high wages for the people in charge, not asking about (reductions) for the worker bees — who earn every penny. This is ridiculous, this city that is one of the poorest in the Central Valley (still) has some of the highest wages and this is the way two of you people on the city council lost your positions,” Rhoads said.
Rhoads said she was also appearing tonight to follow up on the municipal well water contamination issue that was brought to light at the end of December. “I don’t know if any of you have read the December 29th issue of The Madera Tribune, as it was right around the holidays. The (wells are) not only contaminated in the city but in (areas) of the county. I personally, in the last six months been diagnosed with a rare blood cancer that (doctors) have no understanding of. After reading that article I see that there is a lot that can be done, but I think you are going to have a lot more (concerns) and complaints. I also work here and have been drinking this water for 32 years. Anybody drinking this water might be exposed ...” she went on to say.
Rhoads cited a 1995 on line article by the LA Times, Banned DBCP Still Haunts San Joaquin Valley Water, stating the city of Fresno was the most affected city, and it had closed 29 wells but had also successfully sued and recovered $21 million and reserved as much as $80 million for future well damages. “Why are you not doing something to get money from some of these chemical companies — some of the richest companies in the world, (that) have contaminated our water. Now get out there and get some money from them and replace our wells and our water. I just hope none of you or anyone else get a diagnoses like mine. This is something you better be aware of. It is happening.” Rhoads said.
Other residents were more optimistic. Builder developer Mike Pistoresi commented “After viewing the Public Comment section of the video from last night’s Council Meeting and knowing the mindset of five of our council Members (Including our two new Council Members) I believe that our “New” Council has what it takes to bring about the change that we so crave in our community.”