The Santa Barbara City Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday to raise the rates on municipal utilities again this year, effective July 1.
Water rates are set to rise 3.5 percent, wastewater rates will go up 4 percent and solid waste rates will increase 3.56 percent.
City water resources manager Rebecca Bjork emphasized that the price hikes are necessary so that infrastructure can be proactively replaced before catastrophic failures.
“I think in these times we need to consider our residents, and maybe we can’t do everything we want to do when we want to do it,” said Councilwoman Michael Self, the only member who voted to oppose the raise.
Last June, the City Council agreed to raise water rates by 3 percent and wasterwater rates by 4 percent. The Water Fund Financial Plan calls for the council to raise rates 3.5 percent each year. The money would pay for infrastructure improvements mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency and restore capital reserves required by the City Council.
Councilman Frank Hotchkiss challenged the misperception that the rate increases would mean staff wage increases. Bjork said salaries for water resources staff will be $7.6 million while the proposed capital improvements for next fiscal year will cost $11 million.
The average cost to a single-family home will be another $2.19 per month on water and $1.41 on wastewater. Santa Barbara will still charge less for water than the Carpinteria Valley Water District, the Goleta Water District and the Montecito Water District but has significantly less agriculture.
Janice Evans, a local resident and business owner, was outraged over having to pay $120 to $130 per month for all three utilities on a single-family home. She said the council’s vote represented a continuing strategy of putting the cost of capital improvement on the shoulders of residents.
“We’re a captive audience, and they’re treating us as such,” Evans said.
Bjork acknowledged the frustration of local residents who are being encouraged to save money by cutting down on their usage but are still seeing rates go up. She said the problem is that revenue goes down as more people conserve water, but the city still needs to fund projects such as essential pipe replacements.
“At some point we are going to have to revisit this in another more significant way,” Councilman Randy Rowse said.
Rowse and other council members said they were concerned about increasing the costs to Santa Barbara’s increasingly small agriculture sector.
“It’s not only an essential part of our community but our heritage as well,” Rowse said. “It’s sad to see what’s been going on in my time here since the early ‘70s.”
Steven Little, president of the Westwood Hills Avocado Alliance, a group of seven growers on the Mesa, told the council that some groves have already been sacrificed because of rising costs in recent years.
Matt Fore, the city’s Environmental Services manager, also attributed the need to raise solid waste rates to infrastructure costs such as the gas collection center at Elings Park and a groundwater treatment plant.
Santa Barbara residents can expect to see the same relative 3.56 percent increase in solid waste disposal, whether they’re a homeowner — 96 cents more per month — or a business using a Dumpster — $9 more per month.
Fore said the city can expect to receive about $200,000 with residents’ recycling. Businesses that recycle also will continue to save on their waste disposal despite the rate increases.