OCEANSIDE — Residents were warned of a probable water and wastewater rate increase at a recent public workshop, and true to the warning, City Council approved an increase in a 4-1 vote Feb. 4. Councilwoman Esther Sanchez voted against.
At the Jan. 27 workshop, the news was that water rates were expected to increase by $2.26 a month for single-family households and wastewater rates were anticipated to jump $4.78 a month, bumping up expenses by $84.48 a year. Lonnie Thibodeaux, water utilities director, said that was just the beginning and that water and wastewater fees are expected to increase further next year.
On Feb. 4, the council voted in a slightly lower $1.66 water rate increase and $3.32 wastewater increase. Drought rates, which were initially part of the water rate increase, were tabled for further discussion.
Oceanside has been readying residents for the expected rate increases since October 2008 through meetings and mailed notifications. At the workshop, residents were told higher water rates will cover a $377,000 increase, broken down into $158,000 in pass-through charges paid for water supply, and $219,000 in city debt coverage, infrastructure and operations costs.
Higher wastewater rates were said to cover a $1,239,184 increase of $1 million in project costs and $239,184 in operation costs.
The proposed increases were re-examined and brought down a bit before the Feb. 4 vote.
One cost the city cannot control is the water pass-through charge, paid to the Metropolitan Water District, which is expected to increase. “The cost of water is going up and up,” Thibodeaux said.
Unchangeable state budget cuts are also anticipated.
“No matter how we figure this out, we still don’t know what the state’s going to do, or how much the state of California is going to take out of the budget,” Mayor Jim Wood said. “The rate increase is at the worst possible time.”
In the areas of operations and usage, a wide range of ideas were shared during the workshop on how to chip away at water costs and demands, like cutting operation costs by sending water bills electronically, and encouraging low-water landscaping. Thibodeaux said the Water Utilities Department and city will look into the ideas, but that these practices will not have enough impact to nix a rate increase.
“I’d like to get a different scenario,” Sanchez said at the January workshop. “All I hear is one for all rate payers.”
Sanchez still did not support the increase after three different scenarios were presented at the council meeting.
Lloyd Prosser, Oceanside resident and former Utilities Commission member, also objected to the all or nothing option of rate increases. “We need to develop some of those other options,” Prosser said. He added that the risk of postponing some infrastructure projects should be considered.
“We can defer maintenance if we have to,” Thibodeaux said at the workshop, though he said he would not recommend it.
At the council meeting, the city conceded to reducing operations budgets in order to reduce fee increases.
Still, Oceanside sees itself as faring better than surrounding cities. “In a rate comparison, we’re still reasonable with our water,” Thibodeaux said.
A comparison chart of water rates showed Del Mar, Vista, Encinitas, Carlsbad and San Marcos all have higher water rates than Oceanside even after the proposed increase.
A chart on wastewater costs, however, showed Oceanside has higher wastewater rates than Del Mar, Encinitas, Vista and Carlsbad, with San Marcos wastewater costs higher than Oceanside. Thibodeaux said the higher wastewater rates are due to payment for Oceanside’s wastewater facility, and added Oceanside’s wastewater rates are average for San Diego County.