Approved water rate increases rile some Escondido residents

ESCONDIDO — A five-year water rate increase was approved by the City Council Wednesday to fund Capital Improvement Projects and operational costs.

According to a report from Director of Utilities Chris McKinney, the new water and wastewater rates will increase Water Fund revenue by 5.5 percent per year over the next five years. The adjusted rates will become effective March 1 and each year thereafter through 2021.

The increases, according to the cost of service study, will cover the estimated $141.5 million in capital expenditures and $75 million in proposed bonds.

Councilwoman Olga Diaz was the lone no vote, stating she supported an increase for agricultural use, but not a sweeping 5.5 percent increase for all residents.

Water rates, meanwhile, have increased each year since 2011 with rises of 12 percent from 2012-14 and 5.5 percent from 2015-16, according to the report.

The wastewater rates increase was 4 percent from 2013-14 and 6 percent in 2015-16.

Many residents are protesting the rate increase with 20 letters submitted to the city, citing numerous reasons for their disapproval.

Vicky Martin said state and federal funding should cover the cost of the Wohlford Dam project, while Danny Escalona and Christine Wong said, “if we don’t turn on a drop of water, we have a fixed $130 per month on these fees, which is very high.”

Other residents noted they are on fixed incomes such as social security.

Jan Bigelbach, 78, and her 81-year-old husband’s last bill was $386.

Gary Boucher, who owns an eight-acre avocado grove, said he was shocked to learn over the five-year period that agricultural use water rates will increase by 48.3 percent.

“In addition, any rate increases for water purchased by Escondido from San Diego County Water Authority are to be a pass-through and will increase the city proposed rates even further,” his letter read.

McKinney’s report, meanwhile, states CIP projects expected to move forward in the next five years include the emergency treated water connection ($1.5 million), Escondido canal undergrounding ($23 million), Lindley Reservoir replacement ($10 million), Lake Wohlford Dam project ($35 million) and the A-11 Reservoir replacement ($1.2 million).

According to McKinney’s report, the water connection will be between the city’s system and Vallecitos Water District to allow the transfer of treated water when one of the two agencies has a supply deficit.

Repairs to the Lake Wohlford Dam will add 3,800-acre feet of water storage for the city.

In addition, the city’s evaluation cites rising cost factors such as the cost of imported water, requirements to maintain debt services, operations, future projects and planned infrastructure maintenance and expansion.

The average increase for a Tier 1 single-family home (7,000 gallons per month or less) is $5.57 for 2017, up 24 cents from 2016. The rate increase is 31 cents next year followed by 33 cents in 2019, 35 cents in 2020 and 37 cents in 2021.

The water charges for a 10,000-gallon customer ranks 10th-highest out of 22 agencies in San Diego County. A 20,000-gallon user ranks fourth, while wastewater charges for a 10,000-gallon customer ranks 10th out of 13.

Water Fund and Wastewater Fund emergency reserves and debt reserves are fully funded and annual net revenues are in excess of the minimum required to make debt service payments.


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