Jim Steinberg, Staff Writer
Posted: 06/27/2012 12:07:27 AM PDT

RIALTO – The Rialto City Council on Tuesday voted to end the contentious issue of a whooping rate increase by voting 4-1 for its approval.

The issue, and a related agreement to outsource the city’s water and sewer operations to New Jersey-based American Water Works Co. Inc., have been a boiling point for many residents for over a year.

The council’s action will propel water and sewer rates 114.8 percent by 2016.

Because the city of Rialto hasn’t increased rates for years, many residents recognize that rates need to go up, but think the increase should be spread out over more years.

Only Councilman Joe Baca Jr. opposed the rate increase.

As part of the meeting, the council decided not to schedule a referendum during the Nov. 6 general election on that outsourcing agreement – even though the city was presented with more than enough valid signatures to make that happen.

The petitions, gathered by the Utility Workers Union of America, did not include a copy of the concession agreement, Rialto City Attorney Jimmy Gutierrez said in an interview.

Under a provision of the election code, which Gutierrez said was written to encompass city ordinances, a copy of the ordinance must accompany the petitions “so that people know what they are signing.”

In those situations where there are other documents, courts have ruled that they too must be included, he said.

“You got to give all the information to the public,” Gutierrez said.

With the petitions circulated by the union, a copy of the city council resolution on the concession agreement was the only document included, he said. “How’s the public going to know what it’s signing without a copy of the concession agreement,” he said.

When asked how a document spanning hundreds and hundreds of pages, as is the case of the concession agreement, could be part of a petition being passed from one person to the next, Gutierrez said, “yeah, but that’s what the law says.”

Later he said that at least a summary of the agreement should have been included along with the petitions.

Contacted late Tuesday night, Utility Workers spokesman Mark Brooks said that the union’s legal team would need to evaluate the city’s position.

The union submitted 6,379 signatures and of those, 1,545 were declared invalid during a certification process conducted by the county Elections Bureau. That left 4,834 valid signatures – well above the amount needed to put the issue before voters.

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