Water rate increase hearing set for tonight

ENCINITAS — The San Dieguito Water District is holding a hearing Wednesday to vote on a proposed series of water rate increases over the next four years, but at least one prominent resident has called the district’s rate structure into question.

If the district board, which is essentially the Encinitas City Council, approves the increase, property owners would see their rates rise 6.5 percent next year and up to 6.5 percent in the following fiscal year.

A divided water board recommended the rates after a November hearing in which two members — Catherine Blakespear and Lisa Shaffer — opposed the rate structure, which would cost ratepayers more on the back end compared to two other proposals that staff presented.

Staff’s recommendation, which the board did not select, would have raised rates the highest in the short term — 9 percent — but would have resulted in the district paying down its unfunded pension liabilities in 20 years as opposed to 30 years, saving ratepayers $2.7 million over the life of the repayment.

Many water districts have seen the rate they charge ratepayers skyrocket in recent months, largely due to several factors:

 

  • The drought, which has forced water districts to purchase more expensive imported water rather than getting it from local reservoirs, and the subsequent drought conservation efforts have siphoned off the very revenue districts rely on to operate.
  • A recent lawsuit against San Juan Capistrano has altered how rates and charges are calculated by requiring cities to justify their tiered rates structures
  • The state has required cities and water districts to start paying down its unfunded pension liabilities, requiring cities to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to meet the mandate.

 

At least one resident, however, has called on the city to further examine its rate structure and hold off on adjusting the rates until they do so.

Bob Bonde, who has spearheaded a recent charge for the city to legalize the city’s illegal accessory dwelling units, says the lack of an inventory of such units has unfairly skewed the city’s rate structure.

“The District’s counting of dwelling units to make the operation fairer is not available to single-family and multi-family classifications that include non-recorded (illegal units); consequently, higher bills than needed accrue,” Bonde wrote in an eight-page report to the water district. “An accurate city wide dwelling unit inventory and inclusion of the units is needed to eliminate this problem.”

Bonde also questions the district’s use of water meter size to determine the fees charged to property owners to recover some of the district’s fixed costs. He recommends the fees to be replaced by a uniform dwelling unit service fee for both single and multi-family units.

“How the current rate structure has lasted this long is a mystery,” Bonde said.

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