Water rates in SLO to rise again in July

acornejo@thetribunenews.comMay 21, 2013 

San Luis Obispo water rates are going up — again — capping nine years of annual increases of at least 8 percent.

Residents can expect their bills to increase 7.5 percent July 1 and an additional 5.5 percent in July 2014 if the City Council approves the proposed rates next month.

The increases could be halted if more than a majority of residents, 50 percent plus 1 of the city’s water users, protest. Written protests must be received prior to the public hearing June 12.

An average local household uses about 5,984 gallons, or eight billing units, of water a month, according to city figures.

The water bill for such a household, 2.3 people on average, is $54.71 a month. It will go up to $57.48 in July and to $60.64 in 2014.

Residents who use more than eight units of water will pay more.

A proposal to change the rate structure would narrow rates to two tiers:  nine units and above will cost $8.20 per unit in 2013 and $8.65 in 2014.

There are 14,400 business and residential connections for water in the city.

As it is now, residents pay $7.82 a unit for six to 25 units. A third rate tier, for high water users, charges $9.80 a unit for consumption over 26 units.

Also included in the proposed changes is a new $5 minimum charge for all water users, regardless of their usage.

The structural changes will not increase revenue, Utilities Director Carrie Mattingly said.

The fee is intended to stabilize revenue for fixed costs such as capital improvements, employees and debt payments. 

“Water is there whenever anyone needs it, whether it is being used or not,” Mattingly said. “The small flat rate will help us cover costs.”

However, some residents are concerned about the ongoing increases.

“The increased rates really affect those of us in the older category, living on fixed incomes,” said Jim Renzi, who retired in 2006 as a school administrator.

Renzi lives in what he describes as a modest tract home on the south side of town with minimal water dependent landscaping.

“We have tried to go as drought tolerant as we can, and only have a small lawn in the backyard,” Renzi said.

Sewer rates are also proposed to increase by 7 percent over the next two years.

The average residential customer will pay $2.28 more starting July 2013 and an additional $1.73 per month in July 2014.

Water and sewer rates have consistently increased every year since 2005.

In 2011, the City Council narrowly approved a nearly 20 percent increase for water. Residents were charged an 11 percent increase in 2011. The following year, an additional 9 percent increase was levied.

At the time, the council also approved a 13.5 percent increase in sewer rates.

Also in 2011, San Luis Obispo began using Nacimiento Lake, north of Paso Robles, as a key water source.

Rates started to increase in 2005 to pay for the city’s share of the Nacimiento Water Project. San Luis Obispo was the first city to treat and use the water after completion of the 45-mile, $176 million pipeline.

Another major water source for San Luis Obispo is Santa Margarita Lake, otherwise known as Salinas Reservoir. It is currently the main water source for the city as work is done at the intake facility for Nacimiento.

“There is an economic benefit that comes with the water supply,” Mattingly said. “Without water, you can’t do a whole lot. It’s a very positive outlook for this community. We really are in a great spot.”

A public hearing on the proposed increases will be held at 5 p.m. June 12 in the Council Chambers, 990 Palm St., San Luis Obispo.

The Utilities Department is also hosting a series of open houses for residents to ask questions prior to the hearing. The next one will be held Tuesday from 4 to 6 p.m. at 879 Morro St. 

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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