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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 8:22 am | Fair 35º


Santa Maria Council OKs Water, Sewer Rate Hikes for Next 3 Years

The City of Santa Maria's water and sewer rates will rise 5 percent annually for the next three years, continuing a trend that began more three decades ago.

By a vote of 4-1 Tuesday night, the City Council approved the increases, which will become effective each July 1 from this year through 2017.

Councilwoman Etta Waterfield was the lone opponent.

The typical family will pay $3.79 a month more under the first increase for the combined water and sewer rate hikes, Utilities Director Shad Springer said.

“Our goal is to manage and operate the system as efficiently as possible, including day-to-day operations, planning for expansion, and completing maintenance and repair projects,” Springer said. “It’s important to maintain the infrastructure to reduce the chances of catastrophic failure. 

“Catastrophic failures are expensive and a waste of an important water resource,” he added.

A recent water line failure in Los Angeles led to the loss of 8 million gallons. To put that in perspective, city customers use 12 million gallons a day, he noted.

The city has implemented annual rate hikes of at least 5 percent since 1981 to cover operating costs, acquisition costs, maintenance expenses, and more. 

Springer said staff looked at various options before recommending the 5-percent increase, the alternative that keeps the water and sewer funds financially healthy.

“The proposed 5-percent increase allows the city to maintain sufficient revenue to operate the city’s water and sewer system, pay for costs associated with State Water delivery, and maintain existing infrastructure,” Springer said. 

The rate hike proposal failed to draw the required number of protests to stop the increase, according to Springer.

As of Tuesday, the city received two official protests of the more than 20,000 accounts served by the city.

The city needed written opposition from 10,874  customers to block the increase.

Two residents also spoke during the public hearing Tuesday night. 

Following the public hearing and initial approval, the council is scheduled to give the final approval at its May 5 meeting.

Even with the increase, the water and sewer rate of $80.81 per month paid by city customers will still fall among the lowest on the Central Coast.

Montecito and Solvang are at the highest end, while residents in Grover Beach, Buellton and Guadalupe pay the lowest rates, according a survey conducted by the Santa Maria city staff.

In opposing the rate hike, Waterfield noted residents see price increases at the gas pumps, in grocery stores and more.

“I’m tired of being increases in my life everywhere I go,” Waterfield said.

But other council members noted their predecessors and prior staff were forward thinking in lining up a good supply of quality water for residential and ag users, Councilman Jack Boysen said. 

“Santa Maria has really accepted its responsibility as stewards to future generations by ensuring a high quality recharge to our ground basin,” Boysen said. “And one way we do this is by blending our State Water along with our well water to provide a very high quality product… .”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully 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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