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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 6:54 am | Fair 52º


Santa Barbara May Hike Water Rates Again After $62,000 Consultant Study

It’s one of the cruel paradoxes of water conservation: The more people save, the more the city of Santa Barbara increases its rates.

The city will face an $8 million budget shortfall in its water fund if it doesn’t raise rates or plunge into its reserves because residents and businesses have been conserving water at a high rate. 

The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to spend up to $62,000 on a consultant to decide how much the city will need to raise rates to make up for the possible shortfall for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins July 1. 

The city will have to increase water-rate revenues by as much as 22 percent next year, staff said.

Last year, the city increased its revenue by 30 percent, and 8 percent the year before. 

The consultant will study the rates and come up with a plan to boost revenues. In general, people who use less water have lower rates, and people who aren't conserving more than they were last year will pay a higher per-unit cost. 

The city could have spent more reserve funds and raised rates less, but decided that it was best to consider hiking the rates as high as possible, then pull back if necessary.

“If you start with the scenario of higher rates, you have more flexibility,” said Kelley Dyer, the city’s water resources supervisor.

The city currently requires residents to conserve at a rate of 25 percent compared to the previous year, but for 2017, that number will increase to 35 percent.

Dyer said that it won’t be much of a stretch for most residents.

“It’s not a big change in behavior that we would be asking of our customers,” Dyer said. “They are already conserving at almost that level.”

If the city receives a deluge of rain in the next month, the water rate conservation goals could be softened. 

“Hopefully we can smooth things out over time, and Mother Nature can help us out a bit,” said Mayor Helene Schneider. 

Water Resources Manager Joshua Haggmark said part of the budget hit is coming from the fact that it will cost the city about $3 million to process water through the desalination plant that is under construction.

The city staff will return to the council in April with the results of the study and decide whether and how much it needs to raise rates.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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