Water, sewer rates likely to increase

Higher water and sewer rates are on the way for Del Mar residents this July, if a majority of customers do not oppose the increases.

While the region is facing a possible 30 percent increase in the price of water this summer, Del Mar’s regular water rates will not increase as dramatically.

Rates are proposed to increase between 6 and 7 percent annually from 2009 to 2014, which covers more costly water, infrastructure operation and maintenance, administrative costs and inflation.

“Unfortunately, they never go down,” said Mayor Crystal Crawford. “But the good news is we are doing this in the fairest fashion we can using the latest data.”

Sewer rates for the same five-year period are proposed to increase 8 percent next year, and then gradually taper down to a 2 percent increase by 2013.

However, if the region requires mandatory cutbacks, which is widely expected by this summer, water hogs could see big increases on their water bill.

Cities must update their water and sewer rates every five years. The City Council plans to introduce the new five-year schedule at their April 6 meeting and complete the majority protest vote process before the current schedule expires on June 30.

City staff worked with consultant FCS Group to develop the rates through an in-depth analysis of the revenues and expenditures for the city’s water and sewer systems. The Ad Hoc Utility Rate Advisory Committee provided detailed oversight, and is expected to make a final recommendation about the rates by the April 6 council meeting.

The formula used to calculate the rates is not changing much and includes a fixed charge based on the size of the customer’s water meter, plus a charge per unit of water used.

The bi-monthly fixed charged for a typical single-family residence is proposed to increase from $34.16 to $37.10 next year, and the unit price of water is proposed to increase from $2.60 to $2.68.

Under the new proposed schedule, the water unit price will decrease for multi-family users to reflect their lower usage during peak times. The rate is proposed to drop from $2.60 to $2.31 next year and then follow the annual percentage increase schedule.

The price of water increases over three tiers, meaning the more water a customer uses, the more expensive it becomes.

Along with the regular water rates, a separate price structure for drought conditions is also up for approval.

Mandatory restrictions and water allocations are widely expected by this summer; and if cities use more water than allocated, they will be fined up to $250,000.

Under the drought water rate structure, water starts out at the same price as the regular schedule. However, users will be allotted a smaller amount of water at the first tier price, which will be based on 90 percent of their average monthly winter consumption.

The price for the second and third tiers jumps 70 and 110 percent, respectively, to encourage water conservation and cover any fines the city is charged.

On top of that, a blanket 10 percent increase on the fixed charge is proposed to help recover lost revenue due to lower water use.

Residents and council members expressed concern that the regional water authority’s anticipated uniform 20 percent cutback punishes those who already conserve water, because they will be allowed to use less than those who do not conserve.

The proposed structure attempts to bring the greatest consumers in line by charging more than $10 a unit of water at the highest usage tier, said FCS Group project manager Robb Grantham.

The proposed rate structures are subject to Proposition 218, which requires a majority protest vote. The city will mail notices to all customers, and a majority must oppose the increases in writing to stop the council from approving the rates.