Water, sewer rates set to go up

DEL MAR — With minimal public input, City Council introduced a draft ordinance at the April 6 meeting that could increase water and sewer rates beginning July 1. Rates are set every five years. The current schedule expires June 30.
According to the proposed plan, water rates would increase 7 percent the first year and gradually decrease to 6 percent by the end of fiscal year 2013-2014. Similarly, sewer rates would jump 8 percent beginning July 1 and eventually decline to 2 percent.
The average single-family household can expect its bimonthly fixed water rate to increase from the current $34.16 to $37.10 the first year and $47.06 the last year. The unit price for water, which uses a three-tiered use structure, will increase by 8 cents at the base level in the first year for single-family dwellings. Multifamily users will see about a 30-cent decrease, but that will go up during the following four years.
The new schedule proposes another set of rates for drought conditions. Southern California is currently in a stage 1 drought, which means voluntary 10 percent conservation. The San Diego County Water Authority is expected to issue a stage 2 alert that could result in mandatory restrictions and allocations. Noncompliant cities could face fines of up to $250,000.
When the proposal was first presented at a special meeting March 23, council members had several concerns. Councilman Mark Filanc said he thought hillside residents were unfairly paying higher sewer rates, which are based on water consumption, because of landscape irrigation.
Council members also questioned whether using winter water usage to measure base flows for sewer rates was fair.
Council members noted that larger hillside properties could still have substantial irrigation even during winter. A staff investigation revealed winter water use is greater in the larger hillside parcels. But the public works director said larger properties also require more maintenance.
“What we’re trying to do here is put precision into an imprecise science, and it’s a waste of time,” Councilman Richard Earnest said. “Anytime you try to make something fair for somebody, you’re making it unfair for another.”
Earnest said using a percentage of water usage to calculate sewer rates is “not the right way to do it.”
“But I, for the life of me, don’t know what the right way is,” he said. “This seems to me to be as logical … as any other system.”
Acknowledging conservation would ultimately result in lower sewer rates, Filanc said the system was still unfair.
“I think there is a disparity but I don’t think there’s any way to actually measure exactly what it is,” he said. “The sewer (rate) is based on an arbitrary number but I don’t know of any other way to do this that remotely resembles fair.”
Councilman Carl Hilliard agreed, calling the rate-setting methodology more of an art than a science. “You recognize (there are) some flaws … but there’s really no way to come to grips with it,” he said. “It’s as close as we can get.”
An informational workshop will be held at 4 p.m. April 23 at City Hall, 240 10th St. A Notice of Public Hearing will be sent to property owners and ratepayers. If more than 50 percent submit written protests, council cannot approve the proposed increases. If no majority protest is received, a public hearing to adopt the ordinance is scheduled for May 26.


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