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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 1:59 pm | Partly Cloudy 63º


Carpinteria Water District Approves Rate Increases

Despite public opposition, members say they had no choice given the district's financial challenges

After weeks of contentious debate, the Carpinteria Water District Board voted unanimously to approve rate increases, much to the chagrin of customers present at Wednesday night’s meeting.

In the early 1990s, the district purchased an excess of water from the state, and the problem was compounded as plans to sell the water fell through. Aging infrastructure also compounds the district’s costs.

The district is facing a series of challenges, said Norma Rosales, the district’s business manager. Increased water treatment costs associated with the Zaca Fire, a failed water deal with oil company Plains Exploration Petroleum and increasing personnel costs were all part of the problem, she said.

Even after cost-cutting measures were put toward each of those items, a deficit of $390,000 still exists, she said.

Carpinteria resident Brian Nash said he was concerned about how a rate increase looked at a time when money is tight for everyone. “Everybody out there is fighting to make a living these days,” he said. “I really think right now you could probably dig into your budget, find $390,000 and forgo a rate increase this year.”

The water rate increase is a fixed percentage for all municipal, industrial, commercial and residential uses. In addition, the cost to offset the loss from the PXP offer is also a 3 percent increase. Overall, most customers can expect an increase of 1.9 percent for the lowest users to 2.9 percent for the highest, district staff member Alex Keuper said.

Board member Matthew Roberts was the lone voice of dissent. He said he felt that the board was responsive last year to concerns about rate increases. He said the staff analyzed the rates, and that water rates were actually reduced for lower water users. About 2,700 master water meters, which supply water to apartment buildings and motor homes, saw a rate reduction of 11 percent, Keuper said.

“Obviously, the water district can’t reduce the rates for everybody and make our budget whole,” he said, and noted that people who consumed more water saw their prices increase as a result. After his comments, however, Roberts changed his vote to maintain accord on the dais.

Article Image
Resident Brian Nash, with district staff member Alex Keuper looking on, speaks out against the rate increases. “I really think right now you could probably dig into your budget, find $390,000 and forgo a rate increase this year,” he told members of the Carpinteria Water District Board. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Several speakers encouraged the board to deny the rate increases as an olive branch to the community.

“We need to turn around the relationship between the community and the board,” resident Ann Bardach said. She recommended a series of measures the board could take to cut back as an alternative to the increases, including combining with the Montecito Water District, seeking cheaper legal counsel and even cutting back on health benefits for board members.

Resident Carl Stucky said that because many businesses are cutting back, he found it hard to believe the district couldn’t find $200,000, which would represent about 2 percent of the district’s budget. “The difference I think is that we have a public agency that has captive ratepayers,” he said.

Board President Frederick Lemere took issue with Stucky’s statement, however, and said the board has been working since November to trim costs.

“There’s been considerable effort made to reduce and whittle down the dollars involved,” he said. The system is extremely vulnerable, he said, and if a significant event such as an earthquake were to hit the city and destroy some of the infrastructure, costs would be significant.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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