The Santa Barbara City Council will vote later on water, wastewater and trash fee increases along with the rest of the proposed 2012-13 budget, but members voiced support for raising the rates during a public hearing on Tuesday.
To keep up with maintenance costs, the city proposes a 3.5 percent increase for water service and usage fees, a 10 percent increase for sewer rates and a 2.69 percent increase for all trash rates.
Many members of the public voiced support for the higher rates to keep up with infrastructure needs, but the agriculture community argued against raising their rates.
Agriculture water rates haven’t been raised in two years, and were even lowered before that, according to city staff. The current rates are $1.45 per hundred cubic feet — less than half the rate for the lowest residential water users.
Councilman Bendy White said the agriculture community shouldn’t be let off the hook every year, and others agreed.
The biggest source of contention among council members is the 6 percent portion of the sewer rate increases related to the Clean Water Act settlement with Santa Barbara Channelkeeper.
Councilman Dale Francisco said the city was doing everything right before the lawsuit was filed, making improvements that drastically reduced the number of spills from the city’s sewer pipes and “were already proceeding at a rate to get the environmental benefits that we want.”
With the lawsuit and resulting settlement, the city spent $700,000 on specialized attorneys and paying Santa Barbara Channelkeeper’s legal costs, and $5 million over five years for additional pipe replacement.
“I would hope that in the future we can work together with Channelkeeper and other environmental organizations to solve these kinds of problems,” Francisco said.
Council members said it’s regrettable how much money was spent on litigation that could have been spent on infrastructure replacement.
A new contract negotiated with MarBorg Industries to be the city’s trash hauler would delay a portion of the proposed trash rate increases, but the rest of the proposed fee hike is from higher “tipping fees” at the Tajiguas Landfill.