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CITY HALL – Whether or not you’re getting hit by the proposed drought surcharges, you could be paying more for water next year.

On Tuesday City Council will consider increasing water rates by 77.7 percent over the next five years.

The rate increases would come in chunks, starting at a 9 percent bump next year and 13 percent increases over the following four years.

These rate changes would come on top of the drought measures, which will be proposed to council in the same meeting. Surcharges would be added to the water bills of residents who use more than a citywide threshold and fail to reduce their usage by 20 percent from their 2013 baseline. Commercial water users would be expected to hit the same 20 percent reductions but would not be given a threshold allowance.

Thanks to the drought measures “water bill increases are somewhat offset by the reduction in water use which is anticipated from each customer,” city officials said of the proposed five-year, 77.7 percent increase.

The drought measures are going to cost about $862,000 this fiscal year and $592,000 next fiscal year to implement.

“With the implementation of the Stage 2 water restrictions and the projects required to implement (the long-term water saving plan) a 20 (percent) reduction in water use is expected to occur, requiring a rate increase to cover the fixed and increased costs of producing, distributing, and conserving this reduced volume of water,” city officials said.

Without any changes to the status quo, water rates would increase 13 percent over the next five years – 2.5 percent inflation increase each year – and the Water Fund would go into the red by fiscal year 2016-17, city officials said. This rate is unsustainable, they said. That negative balance could be greater than $30 million by 2019-20, city officials said.

The current rates were established in 2008 and Santa Monica water users have some of the lowest water bills in the region, city officials said.

Culver City residents pay close to $180 for 30 hundred cubic feet (HCF) of water compared to Santa Monicans, who pays just over $90. One HCF equals 748 gallons.

Of the municipalities listed by city officials, only Pasadena pays less and only slightly so.

An alternative option would be to raise rates by 9 percent each year for the next five years – a 53.9 percent total increase – instead of jumping 13 percent in each of the second through fifth years.

Under this plan, City Hall would have to cut back on expenditures, including projects envisioned to support the goal of water self-sufficiency by 2020.

They might also have to cut back on water main replacement projects. Some of the city’s water mains date back to the 1920s. Earlier this year, an aging water main burst in Westwood, causing millions of dollars worth of damage.

If council gives the go-ahead, City Hall will start doing public outreach on the proposed changes. Council would then be allowed to consider final approval of the rate changes by January of next year.

dave@www.smdp.com

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