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Del Mar households face water, sewer, stormwater rate hikes

Del Mar households will pay increasingly more over the next five years for drinking water, sewage and stormwater services starting in July if the City Council follows through with its direction to administrators Monday, March 18.

Council members voted 5-0 to accept in concept its staff’s proposed rate hikes for the services and schedule a public hearing and initial approval of the charges on May 20.

That would set the stage for final approval June 3 and the first escalation of utility bills July 3.

Then, a typical household would see its monthly bill rise $4.02 to $75.75 for potable water; $5.54 to $109.92 for sewer; and $2 to $20.64 for stormwater runoff controls.

Under the schedule proposed by the city’s public works staff, rates would continue to escalate regularly on Jan. 1, 2020, through 2024.

Del Mar Public Works Director Joe Bride said the increases were calculated largely to cover construction projects needed to deal with unexpected structure failures, plus aging facilities and dwindling revenue due to reduced water usage during the recent drought.

Said City Manager Scott Huth: “The reality is we have a lot of infrastructure that we need to correct.”

Council members observed that even with the increases, the rates would be in the middle of what other utility agencies in San Diego County are assessing their customers.

Mayor Dave Druker recalled that in years past, Del Mar’s water use rates were at the high end.

“At one point, we were the most expensive in the county ... and now we’re close to the average, which says something,” Druker said.

For Del Mar, Huth said, that is somewhat unexpected, given its size. Del Mar is the the smallest city in the county.

“It’s good to be in the middle of the road,” he said of the proposed charges.

No members of the public appeared at Monday’s meeting to comment on the utility rates issue.

Councilman Dwight Worden said he supported the staff’s recommendations.

“This is a responsible thing to do,” he said. “It’s never fun to tell people your rates are going up. ... I’m convinced this is as lean as we can do it and do a good job.”

Council members also expressed support for studying the concept of installing a computerized water-use metering system for properties throughout the city.

The panel, however, decided against endorsing a surcharge for the service until it could further study of the costs.

Widely employed by other cities, the automated infrastructure, often called smart metering, provides much more current information to a household about its utility use, compared to the city’s present approach.

“The reportage of water usage is totally archaic at this point,” Druker said.

Accurate, timely readings will be especially important during drought conditions, he said.

“I think it’s important that we consider that in all haste. ... The next time we have a drought, we need to be able to show our customers how much water they are using, and they need to be able to control their usage on a daily basis,” Druker said.”

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