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Mayor Jerry Sanders took the next step toward raising water and sewer rates this morning when he laid out the details of how he would make court-ordered improvements to the aging infrastructure systems.

Sanders estimates that $1 billion will be needed to make the sewer system fully compliant with bacteria-treatment requirements of the federal Clean Water Act and another $766 million is needed to resolve the state Department of Health’s tentative settlement with the Water Department.

“It’d be nice to say we could let this go, but we can’t. It’s the law,” Sanders said at a press conference this morning at the Alvarado Water Treatment Plant.

The mayor said he does not know the exact amount of the increases he expects to propose, saying those specifics will be released next week. However, he said that his fee proposal will ramp up over a four-year period.

Sanders has been making the case for rate hikes since his State of the City speech last January.

Over the last year, the Mayor’s Office has subjected the water and sewer enterprise funds to outside consultants’ review to address the concerns of the county grand jury. The panel, and several media outlets, have pointed out that the funds have subsidized the city’s general budget – which pays for library operations, recreation program and police officers – in the past. Sanders asked the City Council to pay back the water and sewer funds about $1 million for the past transfers, and now makes assurances that the practice has stopped.

“I’m convinced that the systems are now being well run and that ratepayer funds are being used appropriately,” he said.

The council will likely take up the fee increases in February, after they and the public are given a 45-day window to review a study that breaks down the cost of serving different sectors of the city.

If adopted, the new fees for sewer would go into effect May 1 and for water in July 1.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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