Bonds, costs lead to water rate jump

OCEANSIDE — Council OK’d increases in water rates that will cost an average family $8.40 more a month in water charges and $10.37 more in wastewater charges. The OK to raise rates failed to get a three-fourths vote Oct. 14, but passed Nov. 4 with a 3-1 vote to approve city ordinances that amend water and wastewater rates. Mayor Jim Wood voted no on the ordinances and Councilwoman Esther Sanchez was absent.
“It doesn’t give us much room to wiggle,” Lonnie Thibodeaux, water utilities director, said. “We can breath now.”
The approved increases sit on the high end of rate options proposed Oct. 14, that ranged from a $6.45 to $10.43 a month increase in water and a $4.96 to $14.82 increase in wastewater.
Approved rates cover debt service, pay the higher cost of water supply that has been charged to the city by the Metropolitan Water District since September, and begin to replenish revenue funds spent to cover water costs. What irritates many is that the cost of water supply paid to the Metropolitan Water District is a fixed rate that increases when water use goes down through conservation.
“They’re going to continue doing this,” Oceanside resident Gary Myers said.
Another increase in water rates is expected from the Metropolitan Water District in January 2011.
“It’s a death spiral, the less water we have to use the more we have to pay,” Mick Healy, representative of the Country Club Villas Home Owners Association, said.
“The problem here is that it’s not a competitive model,” Councilman Rocky Chavez said. “We only get water from one source. We need to diversify water.”
Local water sources are being used and further developed, but with little choice in where to buy the majority of water a contingency plan on how to pay the Metropolitan Water District rate was prepared in the event that consumer rate increases were not approved. The plan called for a $3 million reduction in reserves and elimination of 12 water positions and 15 wastewater positions. “We would have to cut dramatically in services,” Thibodeaux said.
The proposed reduction in staff would have resulted in slower response times to repair leaks and respond to costumer complaints, and deferred maintenance of sewer spills and odor complaints. The approval of rate increases means no staff layoffs and no ill effect in services.
To help balance the water and wastewater budget, measures to run operations more efficiently are in place. Plans to use less gas, electric and chemicals are estimated cut operation costs by $535,000. And staff taking on maintenance and inspection tasks that were previously outsourced is expected to save another $200,000.
The water and wastewater rate increases are not welcome, but do allow the city to pay for water supply and assure bonds at least until January 2011 when another 11 to 17 percent increase in pass through charges from the Metropolitan Water District is expected.

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