Fresno City Council members took one look at possible new water rates and fell over themselves running for the exits.
On a Thursday slated for action, the council meekly heard what it knew, said little and did nothing.
The chore before the council was simple: Tell Public Utilities Director Patrick Wiemiller to get the ball rolling on a new list of residential and commercial water rates.
The city's rate structure is complex now that water meters are the norm everywhere. But most homeowners under the proposed step increases almost certainly would see their monthly bill double by July 1, 2016.
Same thing for businesses.
The extra money is needed for more than $400 million of water-system projects, including a nearly $227 million treatment plant for southeast Fresno.
The council's original plan for Thursday was to direct Wiemiller to begin a two-month public hearing process. The council would approve the rate hikes on May 16. The financial pain would begin hitting ratepayers on July 1 and grow in severity for years.
But the council for unexplained reasons lost its stomach for giving orders. Council President Blong Xiong gave everyone fair warning. He said Wiemiller would make a presentation. Then there would be public comment. Then council members could ask questions. Then it would all end without council action.
Xiong kept his word.
Wiemiller, delivering a message as old as City Hall, said a Fresno stuck in a semi-arid valley must invest and conserve if it wants a secure water supply.
Former Fresno County Supervisor Doug Vagim delivered the only public comment, saying there's something fishy about such steep rate hikes.
Vagim, a burr under City Hall's saddle on many issues, is a longtime water meter critic, who says Fresno has more water than it thinks.
Council Member Lee Brand and Wiemiller, working like a seasoned dance team, went through a question-and-answer routine that confirmed everything in the staff report.
Without even a hint of what lies ahead, Xiong called for a five-minute break so the council could march to another room for a housing workshop.
It was left to Assistant City Manager Bruce Rudd after the meeting to explain things:
Council members and city officials will meet individually behind closed doors to dig into various nuances.
City officials probably will hold community meetings throughout the city so ratepayers can explore the same nuances.
At dates still to be determined, a water-rate hearing will be held, the council will vote and, most likely, ever-growing water bills will arrive in the mail.
Stay tuned, city officials said.
In other action
The Fresno City Council on Thursday:
--Adopted changes to the ordinance governing taxicabs. Perhaps the biggest change: Taxicabs can remain in service for 10 years rather than seven years as in the past.
--Approved the appointments of Francine Oputa, James Poptanich, Laurel Prysiazny and Cindy Wathen to the Fresno Poet Laureate Selection Committee.
--Approved the purchase of four properties for construction of the Cultural Arts District Park. The money will come from a state grant.
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