The city will up utility rates, but the fee increases will come with more services, the Watsonville City Council decided Tuesday.
Watsonville will launch a green waste program before the end of the year, will replace aging sewer and water lines, and replace overworked garbage trucks.
It will cost customers $5.56 more a month—that's about 19 cents a day, or $335 over the five year implementation of the increases, according to Deputy City Manager Mario E. Maldonado.
The decision came as part of the 2012-13 city budget.
The city council approved a "status quo budget" for next year—which also included funding for social and community service grants, increase to other fees related to housing and —with a vote of 6-1. City Council Member Nancy Bilicich cast the dissenting vote.
"It's the wrong time for an increase," she said. "The economic times are not good."
The utility rate increase will do a variety of things: replacing two to five miles of water pipes and two miles of sewer lines a year, purchasing new garbage and recycling trucks—which cost $300,000 each—and implementing a new green waste program, Maldonado said.
The new green waste program would pick up yard debris every other week, alternating with recycling services.
Feelings are mixed about the changes.
Fifty-two people sent in letters opposing the fee increase and many residents spoke against the utility rate changes at the meeting.
"The middle class is being squeezed," said Marged McNeely, a mobile home resident who lives on a budget. She said the government should also operate within its budget rather than passing on costs to users. "... I really feel it's unfair to raise the fees."
Gloria Bettencourt, a District 2 resident, said her neighborhood is the poorest in the city, and that she and her neighbors cannot afford the increase.
"If we pay our utilities, than we don't have enough for food," Bettencourt said in Spanish.
Another woman who spoke against the rate increase was frustrated by the lack of services and incentives the city offers. She would prefer a smaller trash can, a green waste bin for yard debris and deals for installing native, drought-tolerant vegetation in her yard, among other environmentally-friendly efforts at her home.
Watsonville resident Amy Newell was the only person who spoke in favor of the changes.
She said she's convinced the city will benefit from the infrastructure improvements and "I think we just need these increases."
, according to Maldonado.
The rate increase "is really meant for the city to think long term," he said.
The green waste program is estimated to reduce trash being added to the landfill by 10 percent, which will increase the life of the landfill, city staff said.
Maldonado pointed out that Watsonville utility rates remain much lower than those in neighboring cities.
City Council Member Oscar Rios proposed limiting the rate increase to 15 cents a day, as compromise to low-income residents, but was shot down.
"Four cents is probably pretty insignificant," Council Member Lowell Hurst said.