CARLSBAD — Although they said it pained them to do it, the Carlsbad City Council unanimously agreed on Dec. 6 to a Carlsbad Municipal Water District residential water rate increase of 10 percent. This 10 percent hike will go into effect on Jan. 2012, and then once again, in Jan. 2013.
During the public hearing, a group of residents sat inside the chambers listening to multiple city staff reasons for the increase.
Utilities director, Glenn Pruim and senior accountant, Helga Stover from the City said the causes behind the rate drives were because of decreased sales volumes, planned debt service payments, and an increase cost of water supplies and transportation costs.
As an example, city staff explained a single family utility bill now paying $50.40 per month, will see a rise in their bill to $55.44 in 2012, and then up to $60.12 the following year.
The CMWD (Carlsbad Municipal Water District) supplies 85 percent of the water in Carlsbad. Other southern locations get their water through Olivenhain Municipal Water District and Vallecitos Water District.
Staff said they did receive protest letters about the rate hike. In the letters, residents were concerned about how the increase would affect those on a fixed income and those already struggling during these financial times. Others questioned how they were notified about the increase while some thought other city services should be cut to avoid an increase.
Carlsbad resident, Jay Brandenburg, who is also treasurer for his homeowners’ association, protested the water rate increase. The association, he said, has been mindful of water conservation with the use of recycled water for landscaping. Brandenburg said he didn’t want to have to see their association dues go up.
Carlsbad resident, Keith Lewinger, who is also a San Diego County Water Authority board member and recently retired general manager of the Fallbrook Public Utility District, addressed the city council and attendees.
Lewinger said much of the rate increase has to do with capital improvement programs, which helped ensure water reliability over a decade ago. “Here in San Diego County we embarked on over a 300 million program to build an emergency storage project; we built the San Vicente Dam, we built the Olivenhain Dam, we built the San Vicente pipeline, and are raising the San Vicente Dam as we speak,” Lewinger said. “We had to sell bonds to pay for those projects and the payment of those bonds is now due – just like a house mortgage, those payments last for approximately 30 years.”
Lewinger is sensitive to those on fixed incomes who are facing the water rate increases. He said when the voters of the State of California passed proposition 218 a few years ago one of its guidelines wouldn’t allow rate discounts to seniors or those with low incomes. It’s against the law. “You can say anyone who uses less than 12 units of water will pay a lower rate,” he said. “A rate structure has to be available to all the people.”
Lewinger said Carlsbad is a very well run city, and about 90 percent of the costs that staff showed the council that evening were fixed numbers.
Members of the city council thanked Lewinger for his time in clarifying the issues.
Council member Keith Blackburn asked staff members what the consequences would be if there weren’t a water rate increase.
“Eventually, we wouldn’t be able to pay our bills and would not be able to buy water from the (county) water authority,” Pruim said.
Council member Mark Packard said he didn’t see any viable alternatives so he supported the increase.
Mayor Matt Hall said he reluctantly had to support the recommendation, as well. “The cost to bring water to this area continues to increase,” he said.