Atascadero water bills could rise up to 7.5 percent next year

Correction: This story has been edited to clarify that it's not yet been decided exactly how the proposed rate increase could apply to each tier of water customers.

Atascadero water users could see an increase of up to 7.5 percent on their bills in 2012, according to a new proposal to go before the private utility’s board of directors.

The increase would cover users' approximately $2.6 million annual debt on the Nacimiento Water Project and regular operation costs for its 10,500 customer accounts, which serve about 30,000 people.

The proposal comes after Atascadero Mutual Water Co. board approved a 15 percent water rate increase in December 2010.

Atascadero residents have a 2,000-acre-foot annual share in the new water, which came online in the spring. The utility originally planned to pay for it through the sale of new water meters, but construction has dwindled since 2008.

About 120 water meters had sold annually since the 1970s, utility general manager John Neil said, while only about 20 meters per year have sold in recent years.

The utility currently has a tiered rate structure making water more expensive for those who use more. Before a rate increase will take effect, the board must decide how to apportion the increase among the various tiers. It could apply the increase evenly to all tiers or apply a larger percentage to some tiers and a lower percentage to others.

Currently, the typical bill for a residential user is $47 in the summer for 15,000 gallons used and $22 in the winter for 4,000 gallons used. For commercial users, a typical bill now is $34 in the summer for 8,000 gallons used and $23 in the winter for 3,000 gallons used.

The increases will be considered at a public meeting planned for 6:30 p.m. Jan. 11 at 5005 El Camino Real.