Rialto Water Division Will Not Be Outsourced Without A Vote

RIALTO—The final chapter in the effort to outsource the city of Rialto’s water department operations to a New Jersey-based company has yet to be written as a coalition of city residents and the union for the city workers who would have been displaced in the takeover have qualified a referendum on the matter for the ballot.
After more than two years of contemplating an arrangement by which American Water Works Co., Inc. would take over maintenance, operation and administration sans ownership of the city’s dilapidated water and wastewater system for 30 years, the city council on March 27 voted to do just that.
Under the terms of the deal, American Water Operations and Maintenance, Inc., a division of American Water Works, was to function as a local company known as Rialto Water Services and take over operation and maintenance of the water district. The city was to retain the district’s water rights.
The for-profit company would take on all aspects of operations, maintenance and billing, effectively running both the water and sewer utilities for the next three decades.
Some water and wastewater division employees were to be allowed to transfer into the city’s engineering or public works divisions, remaining as city em-ployees with their public pension plans intact. Others would go to work with American Water, which was to be required to guarantee those employees will remain employed for at least a year-and-a-half with salary and benefits equal to those offered by the city. That guarantee was to sunset after 18 months.
According to city officials, the company had agreed to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $45 million in upgrades to the water system. American Water has also agreed to assume all debt owed by the city’s water utility division.
In return, city officials agreed to a 114.8 percent increase in water and wastewater rates by 2016, such that the average water bill of Rialto households utilizing 17,000 gallons per month will jump from the current rate of $26.27 per month to $64.14 monthly and increase the wastewater treatment fee from $25.97 to $61.46 as of January 1, 2016.
Members of the Utility Workers of America together with citizens irate at the prospect of the rate hikes organized a signature drive to require that the outsourcing be approved by the city’s voters. The city council’s 4-1 vote with councilman Joe Baca, Jr. dissenting was an unpopular one, and a capacity crowd attended the March 27 meeting to lodge protests.  The petitions collected in April and early May requesting the referendum were handed off to the Rialto city clerk’s office on Saturday May 12, where they were immediately tallied. Over 6,400 signatures were gathered to meet the threshold of 3,800 valid signatures of registered voters needed to force the matter to a vote.
The vote will likely take place in November during the presidential general election.

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