Saturday, January 18, 2020     Volume: 20, Issue: 46

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on September 18th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 27 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 27

Santa Maria proposing water, sewer rate increases

By Zac Ezzone

Water users in Santa Maria may have to pay higher rates over the next four years if the City Council approves water and sewer rate increases proposed by the city’s Utilities Department.

According to a public notice announcing the increases, the current rate charge for the lowest tier of water consumption—up to five units monthly—is about $3.79. The Utilities Department is proposing an increase to $4.77 in 2020, which is a roughly 26 percent increase. This rate would continue to increase annually until reaching $5.37 in 2023.

Utilities Department Director Shad Springer and a consultant who worked on a study to develop the rates discussed the proposed increases at a public workshop at City Hall on Aug. 28. At the workshop, Springer said these increases are necessary to cover the city’s increasing cost of operating and maintaining its water and sewer infrastructure. In addition, this revenue would be used to fund capital improvement projects. 

The Utilities Department is also proposing to rework the city’s water rate structure. 

Currently, the city has four different rate tiers depending on water usage. The existing rates for these four tiers range from $3.79 to $5.98. The Utilities Department’s proposal would restructure these rates and create three different tiers ranging from $4.77 to $5.30 in 2020. The three different tiers would top out at $5.37, $5.57, and $5.97 in 2023. 

Residents who attended the public workshop argued that this restructure doesn’t reward users for consuming less water because there is little difference between the costs of the three different tiers. Residents argued that the city should set higher rates for people who consume more water.

Springer said that according to Proposition 218, which state voters approved in 1996, the city has to base its rates on how much the city pays to serve water to its customers. Because of this, the city can’t set rates higher than the amount it costs to serve its customers. All rates must cover infrastructure costs, such as water lines, which all residents pay for regardless of the amount of water they use.

“Those costs are paid by the system whether or not anybody takes a drop or not,” Springer said. “Those are the capital costs of that infrastructure that have to be in place.”

The Santa Maria City Council will consider the proposed rate increases at a public hearing on Oct. 1. Residents can submit a written protest to the proposed increases to the city by the end of the October meeting. If a majority of the 22,000 water users in the city protest the increase, City Council may not approve the changes.

City Council approved three years of water rate increases in 2015, with the last increase taking effect on July 1, 2017. 

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