After a public hearing Tuesday evening on a proposed increase to rates and charges, a divided Goleta Water District Board of Directors approved an ordinance to enact new rates effective July 1.

A plan for higher water rates and fixed meter charges over the next five years passed in a 3-2 vote, with Directors Tom Evans and Bill Rosen dissenting.

“I think the rates here are too high,” Rosen said.

Rosen said he’s “not opposed to a rate increase” and he recognizes the need the district has, “but I think it should be a reasonable one, and certain things should be taken into consideration.”

Evans pointed out the timing of the new rates and charges amid the coronavirus pandemic. He believes “it’s going to be tough to start raising rates on people in this economic condition, and the rate study was before all of that stuff started, so this is not anything with the board trying to pull a fast one.”

Under the plan taking effect July 1, the average single-family residential customer using nine hundred cubic feet (HCF) of water per month will see their bill go up about $13 per month, according to GWD Assistant General Manager David Matson.

One HCF equals 748 gallons.

Water users using four HCF will see an approximate $8 monthly increase, Matson said.

To estimate how a bill may change and use the water rates calculator provided, click here.

The new rates would generate sufficient revenues to fund operating costs, meet GWD debt covenants and pay for critical capital projects, according to district staff.

As a result of the wildfires around Lake Cachuma in the Santa Ynez Valley and the increasingly complex way that the district operates its water systems, the rates set five years ago no longer cover the cost of providing water to the Goleta Valley, Matson told Noozhawk in an email.

To adapt to the changing environment, he said, the GWD began reviewing its rates in September 2019.  

Rates went down for all customers in May last year, when the drought surcharge was removed, according to Matson.

Water quality challenges, increasing regulations, deferred repairs and replacements for the 75-year-old system and a 20 percent decrease in water use means that a rate adjustment is critical for the district to be able to maintain the level of service it currently provides to customers, Matson said.

A rate adjustment is not unique to the GWD, but an issue all area water providers are facing, Matson added.

“The district’s rates are the lowest of the South Coast agencies, and will remain so even with the proposed rate adjustment,” Matson said.

GWD Board of Directors President Lauren Hanson made it clear that “raising rates is not something that any agency takes lightly.”

“It’s a decision born of necessity to maintain the level of service our community expects, to prepare for an uncertain future, to respond to regulatory changes from the state and the federal government, to carefully operate and update vital infrastructure,” she continued. “We as board members…have the responsibility to put forward and vote for a rate structure that ensures the ability for the district to perform this essential service — the delivery of reliable, safe water.”

The GWD board members conducted their special meeting by teleconference.

The board discussions come after a public hearing process required by state law, which drew hundreds of people in opposition to the new rates and charges.

The district received a total of more than 520 protests on the water rate increases and charges, according to the GWD clerk of the board.

There are 15,226 parcels served by the district, and the Goleta Water District board members were authorized to act on the ordinance unless 7,614 valid protests were received.

Ten opponents submitted protests in writing to the district.

In a written comment, Carolyn and Wayne Larson asked the GWD to reconsider the “huge” proposed water rate increase at this time.

The opponents said they are “extremely alarmed” by the proposal, especially during the period of economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

It will “only bring more financial hardship to” customers, Carolyn Larson said.

“We feel your letter is very misleading about the rate increase,” Carolyn Larson wrote. “We know what our average HCF/month usage is and we figured our increase over a four-year period is over 50 percent, along with the meter charge increase.”  

The Larsons own an acre of land with trees and hedges, and “refuse to let them die,” Carolyn Larson wrote, adding, “Our water bill is slightly higher than a normal household with an average size lot.”

They have lived at the property for more than 40 years and they have practiced conservation, Carolyn Larson said.

Raising the rate isn’t an easy decision, GWD Board of Directors Vice President Kathleen Werner said.

“We can’t continue to operate this complex water treatment and delivery system without making an investment in its upkeep,” Werner said, adding, “I don’t think there is ever a good time. 

“The time to do it is when you don’t have the money to maintain the equipment at a level where you can ensure that the water quality going into the community is safe,” she continued.

Los Angeles-based Raftelis Financial Consultants, Inc. developed the five-year schedule of water rates for the GWD for the 2020-21 fiscal year through the 2024-25 fiscal year.

The district’s fiscal year spans from July 1 to June 30.

The GWD last conducted a cost of service study in 2015, which established proposed rates over five years through fiscal year 2019-20.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.