Like the idea or hate it, Tuesday night is your last chance to weigh in on the proposed 78-percent water rate hike scheduled to take effect over the next five years.
City Council will hold a public hearing on the matter and then consider approving the rate hike.
“Due to projected declining water sales, the City’s self-sufficiency plan program costs, and increased capital funding needs, the City’s cost to provide water service is projected to exceed the City’s water revenues without additional water rate increases,” Public Works Department officials said in a report to council.
In December, council voted 5-1, while expressing ambivalence, to keep the rate hike on the table.
The rationale for this decision was, in part, due to the fact that council will have the chance Tuesday night to lower the rate hike.
Without any changes to the status quo, water rates would increase 13 percent over the next five years — 2.5 percent inflation increases each year — and the Water Fund would go into the red by fiscal year 2016-17, city officials have said.
A compromise 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.
City officials have plans for $33 million worth of capital improvement projects over five years but under the compromise rate structure about $5 million of that would be eliminated.
One of the most common concerns among residents at the December meeting was a feeling that current taxpayers would be covering the cost of infrastructure improvements that would benefit residents for years to come. Some suggested taking out a bond that could be paid back over a longer period of time but city officials warned against it, noting that it would be looked upon unfavorably by ratings agencies.
Councilmember Sue Himmelrich was the only member to oppose the measure in December, but several members expressed concerns with finalizing the 77.7 percent increase.
“I’m not a real big fan of the motion,” Mayore Pro Tempore Tony Vazquez said at the time, “but I think I will support it because it sounds like, at least going forward, in terms of the process, it gives us the opportunity if we have to.”
Leaving the meeting before he got to vote, Councilmember Terry O’Day said he’d have been comfortable with at least the compromise rate increase.
Mayor Kevin McKeown was emphatically supportive of the rate increases, highlighting Santa Monica’s historical relationship with access to water, which has allowed the city its independence from Los Angeles.
Santa Monica buys about 20 percent of its water from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) which is increasing its rates steadily over the next decade. City Hall has a goal of becoming water self-sufficient by the year 2020 — a goal that city officials say will require investment in water infrastructure.
“Owners of record can submit written, signed protests up to the close of the public comment period at the hearing date of February 24, 2015,” city officials said in their report. “Absent a majority protest (which would be approximately 11,000 protests), City Council may approve the final adoption of the rates at the public hearing. As of February 18, 2015, there have been almost 950 protests received by the City Clerk.”
These proposed water rates, it should be noted, are separate from the penalties residents and businesses will incur later this year if they can’t cut back on their water usage.