The Goleta West Sanitary District is planning a rate increase for its 6,000 customers as it prepares for two big infrastructure projects. The rate hike, which is proposed for August, would be the district’s first since 1994.
The special district has been subsidizing rates with property taxes for decades and also receives money from connection and inspection fees. It built up a $28-million reserve by 2009 in anticipation of paying into the Goleta Sanitary District wastewater treatment plant upgrade, which multiple districts use.
Goleta West’s share, which has already been paid out of reserves, was about $16 million, general manager Mark Nation told Noozhawk. He said the district’s Board of Directors wanted to wait for a final upgrade project cost — bids came in far below the estimate — before moving forward with a rate increase.
That cost brought reserves down to about $16 million, and the district has plans for two big pipeline projects that will spend $13 million of that, Nation said. The first, moving a pipeline to Mesa Road on the UC Santa Barbara campus from nearby wetlands, will cost $8.5 million and start construction next summer, he said.
“We’ve had it on the radar for a long time, that we’re going to have to increase rates at some point,” Nation said.
Rates would increase incrementally over six years for all customers to cover higher operating costs and capital improvements. The district expects its treatment costs to increase 10 percent once the upgraded plant is online.
The annual flat rate for residential units would increase to $181 from $168 starting Aug. 1 and to $287 per year in 2019, which is an increase of about $10 per month.
Commercial and nonresidential classifications will also see increases, with a change in the number of gallons included for one Equivalent Residential Unit price, down to 74,600 gallons from the current 80,300 gallons.
The board cannot even consider a rate increase if a majority of property-owner customers — 50 percent plus one, or around 3,000 people — submits written protest letters. Nation said the district has received about 20 letters so far. The letters must be mailed or hand-delivered, and must be received by the July 16 board meeting.
“Nobody likes an increase, obviously, and we wish we didn’t have to increase rates at all, but we think it’s as soft a landing as we can make it,” Nation said.
The City of Goleta, which is served by both the Goleta and Goleta West sanitary districts with differences in user-rate fees, tried to detach from Goleta West and claim the special district’s tax revenues and reserves. To make the change worth it, however, the city’s revenue-neutrality agreement with Santa Barbara County would have to be renegotiated. It wasn’t, so the city withdrew the application in November 2010.
Throughout the debate, Goleta West argued against detachment and said rates would increase twice as much if the proposal went through.
Even with the August rate increases, Goleta West Sanitary District would have the lowest rates of any sanitary district in Santa Barbara County, Nation said.
According to a sewer rate survey Goleta West commissioned, the annual rate of $181 for residential customers would be the lowest rate in the county. The highest is the Montecito Sanitary District, with an annual rate of $1,080, closely followed by the Summerland Sanitary District with annual fees of $909.84, the survey found.
Unlike other districts, however, Goleta West receives property taxes, and got $1.6 million in revenues last year.
All written protests against the proposed rate increases must include a description of the property — the address or parcel number — along with the name and signature of the property owner. All protests can be mailed to Goleta West Sanitary District, Attention: Secretary, at P.O. Box 4, Goleta 93116 or delivered in person to the district office at UCSB Campus Lot 32 behind the UCSB police station.
— Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.