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Water rates going up in Encinitas

ENCINITAS — The City Council unanimously backed a double rate hike at a San Dieguito Water District (SDWD) meeting on Wednesday. 

As a result, rates will jump 8.1 percent for the average SDWD customer beginning in September. Another rate increase, as much as 8.5 percent, will hit in July 2014.

If SDWD’s finances improve over the next year, SDWD staff will recommend a rate increase of less than 8.5 percent for July 2014, said Bill O’Donnell, assistant general manager of the water district.

O’Donnell said SDWD proposed the increase because potable water costs are expected to rise 38 percent for SDWD this year.

That’s because the district won’t be able to get as much water from Lake Hodges.

The city of San Diego recently started drawing water from Lake Hodges, meaning there’s less for SDWD.

Additionally, a drought this year translated to a depleted Lake Hodges supply.

And SDWD needs to contribute more money to a 10-year capital improvement plan, which is projected to cost $17.8 million. Much of that money is going toward the Badger Filtration Plant.

Mayor Teresa Barth said the facility is critical for treating local sources of water, making SDWD less reliant on costly imported water.

“By maintaining the Badger Filtration Plant…we’re maintaining our water security for this area,” Barth said.

More than 13,000 notices about the rate hike were sent to residents. SDWD received 124 letters objecting to the rate increase.

One of the letters came from Michael George, who spoke during the public hearing on behalf of a homeowners association representing 98 homes.

“The middle class is being squeezed,” George said. “Salaries and wages are pretty stagnant.

Yet in that same period of time, you see outrageous increases for services.”

The district charges the average residential customer $111 every two months. With the September hike, that will rise to $120.50. And if the maximum 8.5 percent is settled on come next July, water bills would jump to more than $130.

Those figures don’t include a roughly $5 fee imposed by the county on top of each bi-monthly bill.

As well as usage charges, the City Council also approved increases in fixed, bi-monthly meter charges.

Most residential customers are served by 5/8- to 3/4-inch meters. For them, the bimonthly charge is going up from $33.5 to $36.4, effective July 2014.

Resident Lynn Marr attacked the increase in meter charges, calling it a “regressive tax.” Further, she called upon executives at the water district to take a pay cut to keep down rates.

SDWD budgeted $13.9 million revenues for this fiscal year — a total that doesn’t include the September increase. Expenditures are estimated at $15.6 million.

The adopted rate increase is expected to bring in an additional $985,000 in revenue this year.

SDWD serves 38,000 customers in Leucadia, Old Encinitas, Cardiff and parts of New Encinitas.

The Olivenhain Municipal Water District covers the eastern part of town.

Prior to this rate increase, the last one was two years ago.

That resulted in water bills going up by 13 percent.