The Coast News Group

Water and wastewater rates approved, farmers and seniors oppose charges

OCEANSIDE — Not to the surprise of residents, the City Council said yes to water and wastewater rate increases on Nov. 14.

While another year of increases to pay for bought water, pass-through charges, city infrastructure and expansion of local water sources was expected, farmers and seniors asked the city to take another look at their rates.

Farmers asked the city to reconsider water rates that make it difficult to maintain farms. They said they have done as much as they can to lower bought water use and use wells, and need a hand.

Farmers also pointed out the benefits of farms to the city’s future green waste recycling efforts. Farms will be key users of composted green waste.

Flower grower Mike Mellano said Oceanside agriculture rates are higher than other North County cities. New agriculture water rates are set at $2.70 per unit, special agriculture rates at $1.74.

Seniors also protested new rates and shared the difficulty of budgeting repeated yearly increases while living on a fixed income. Like farmers they shared their efforts to cut back use, and frustration with higher bills.

A number of residents from Oceana senior mobile home park said they are being charged the incorrect meter size rate, and asked the city to look into it.

Meter size dictates fixed service and pass-through charges. The larger the meter the higher the rate. For example, the monthly fixed service charge for a multifamily residential customer with a three-inch meter is $275, while a six-inch meter it is $911.

Citizen protest forms to the increases were handed in to the City Council.

Speakers said climbing rates are a growing hardship.

City Council was empathetic to speakers, and staff said they would meet with farmers and Oceana residents to discuss their rates.

The maximum water rate increase is 2.75 percent.

There are several variables to monthly charges, including a tiered residential customer rate that reflects use.

An average single-family household that is a medium water user will see about a $1.76 a month increase.

All customers will see a 2 percent across the board increase in sewer costs. For a single-family residence this means around a $2 a month increase.

While higher rates are unwelcome, they are below the Metropolitan Water District average rate increase of 4 percent, and San Diego County Water Authority cost increases of 6.4 percent for untreated water and 5.9 percent for treated water.

Oceanside is below the regional average in water rates, and above average in wastewater charges.

If there is a glimmer of a silver lining, Oceanside is pursuing robust efforts to develop local water sources and improve infrastructure, so it can become more water independent. The city now produces about 21 percent of its water from the Mission Basin and local recycled water.

Additionally, lawsuits against the Metropolitan Water District for over charges continue to be pursued — particularly local charges that subsidize Orange County.

“We’ve been fighting for months, years with the Metropolitan Water District, we’re still stuck, we still have to pay the bills, I’m as frustrated as you,” Mayor Jim Wood said.

New rates go into effect Jan. 1, 2017.