Wednesday, February 21 , 2018, 7:34 am | Fair 37º


Local News

Goleta Water District to Notify Customers of Proposed Rate Increases

Board favors pushing capital projects down the road four to five years and phasing in the rate hikes over three years

Ratepayers in the Goleta Water District will be notified of potential rate increases in the mail after Thursday night’s vote by the district’s board. The board will make a final decision later this summer, and whether customers protest the changes en masse remains to be seen.

District leaders are contemplating a 73 percent rate hike for any application requiring an increase in commercial water use. Any amount greater than what’s been used on the property previously would be subject to the higher rate. Depleted reserves and much-needed capital improvements are behind the increases. Those needs are coupled with the fact that water usage and sales have dropped 12 percent in the past two years, and rising State Water costs have left the district with financial challenges.

The board had several options from which to choose Thursday, and went with the one that would push capital projects down the road four to five years and phase in the rate hikes over three years. Whether the district should have a $13 million reserve, or amend its ordinances to require a lower amount, will be discussed at next week’s meeting.

About 45 people attended Thursday’s meeting, and public comment brought out many of the same people who have been opposed to the move since it was first announced last month. Attorneys, UCSB advocates and farmers all spoke, and many urged the board not to rush into a decision.

Resident Bruce Murdoch said the public has a right to know what rates will be before the board takes a vote on it.

“You may be tickling the tummy of a dragon,” he said about the rate hikes. “You aren’t going to like your results.”

Kristen Amyx, president and CEO of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, also spoke out.

“We understand the water district has a financial problem,” she said, but added that raising the charges would have big implications for economic growth in the area. “No one will be able to afford (the charges).”

With the district negotiating labor costs with its union, SEIU Local 620, Amyx recommended that the board wait until it has its expenses nailed down before increasing revenues.

Goleta City Manager Dan Singer spoke to the board at the urging of the City Council. He commended the district staff for “getting the house in order,” but reminded them to move forward with caution.

“You’re being asked to solve those problems off the backs of ratepayers and future development,” he said, adding that phasing in the rates and setting reasonable reserves would be key, as well as working with major players such as UCSB and Santa Barbara County.

John McInnes, the water district’s general manager, encouraged the board to move forward.

“For every week we put this off from July 1, we could lose $75,000 to $100,000 per week,” he said.

The district needs to develop its budget by the end of June to reflect any new rates.

Board member Bert Bertrando said he received many letters of opposition to the increases just before the meeting.

“I haven’t had a chance to read them thoroughly,” he said. “I think we owe it to the public to spend more time on this.”

Board member Lauren Hanson said she had studied the increases carefully and felt the case had been made.

“I think it’s fair that the new users pay the cost for the water that they’re getting allocated to them,” she said. “I can’t say to our customers, ‘You’re going to bear the burden for these development interests because they don’t want to pay it.’”

Staff will notify ratepayers of the proposal and of the June 1 board meeting at which district leaders will make a decision. Any approved changes would take effect July 1.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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