Santa Margarita residents have done so well at conserving water that they may soon have to pay more for what they use.
The county Public Works Department is proposing raising water rates in Santa Margarita by 32 percent.
The increase is necessary because Santa Margarita residents have cut their water use by 32 percent to conserve water in the face of the severe drought facing the county, said Will Clemens, department administrator.
“The conservation that we have seen so far is negatively impacting our finances,” he said. The county provides water to the community’s 509 residences and 24 businesses, and charges are based on the amount of water used. As a result, the 32 percent drop in water use has reduced revenues by 32 percent.
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“It’s just the nature of the beast,” Clemens said. “The lion’s share of costs of a water system is fixed and will not change.”
On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors will introduce an ordinance to change the community’s service charges and schedule a protest hearing for Sept. 15. An informational community meeting will be held at 7 p.m., Sept. 10 in the community center at Murphy Avenue and I Street.
If approved, the average monthly water bill will increase from $44.13 to $58.43. This increase would go into effect during the first bimonthly billing period after Oct. 15.
Residents of the town will have an opportunity to protest the increase at the Sept. 15 hearing. If a majority of landowners or tenants protest, the increase will not go into effect. If that happens, the county services area for Santa Margarita would be put in an untenable position, Clemens said. Revenues would be insufficient to cover capital replacements, debt service, operations and maintenance costs.
“If the protest is successful, we would basically have to try again,” Clemens said. “Ultimately, something is going to have to be approved or the system will run out of money.”