Public meetings set; first is July 14 at Fuerte Elementary
June 22, 2010 (La Mesa) – By a 3-2 vote, Helix Water District’s Board on June 16 voted to increase water rates as recommended by staff. Board members Kathleen Coates Hedberg and De Ana Verbeke opposed the rate hike, while members Richard Smith, John Linden and Chuck Muse voted in favor of raising rates.
Hedberg suggested that the Board postpone increasing revenue that would replenish the current $2.4 million rate stabilization fund by $1.46 million and increase the $7.5 million Capital Improvement Budget 5.5%, noting that the current inflation rate is lower. “I stated that in this current economy, with unemployment rates very high, and following a 21+% increase last year, we should keep rates as low as we possibly can for our customers,” Hedberg wrote in an e-mail. “My proposal would have cut approximately 3% off the proposed rate.”
The rate hike would average 8.8% per household, or an average of $10.06. But higher water users may pay up to 12% more.
Directors Smith, Linden and Muse stood firmly behind the highest rate of increase. Linden argued that rates are going to go up every year, and people will have to get used to it.
Besides rates, the Rate Stabilization Fund was also a central source of disagreement among the board. Helix has kept $3.8 million in its rate stabilization fund, of which last year it used $1.46 million. Muse stated, "We used up the Rate Stabilization Fund last year and still had to increase 21%... if it's not put back in, it will deplete almost entirely."
Hedberg pointed out that there is $2.3 million in the Rate Stabilization Fund. She questioned the wisdom of refunding the Rate Stabilization Fund right now as it will cost rate payers 3% of the total proposed increase, given local unemployment rates of up to 14% in El Cajon, and approximately 15,000 people currently unemployed within the district's boundary. She stated that these are the kinds of times reserves are set aside for, praised budget cuts Department Managers have already made, and said "They stepped up and did that, and we need to step up as a Board."
Another issue raised by the public to various responses from the Board was how to address the Tiered rate structure created during the rate increase last year. Mark Schuppert of the Grossmont-Mt. Helix Improvement Association pointed out that last time the District said the tiered rate structure was created in order to encourage conservation. Now that people have more than met those conservation goals, Schuppert argued that to continue with a Tier 1 that pays less than the cost of water while charging Tier 3 substantially higher rates was to punish that group for having conserved. While against more rate increases, he urged them that, seeing that it was going to happen, to at least adjust the Tiered Rate Structure so that Tier one at least covers the cost of the water it uses.
Verbeke took a position in the middle. "I understand that we will have a rate increase, but we have to keep them to the bare minimum. Water costs aren't the only thing that is increasing now." She said she believes we need to increase Tier one rates, "but not now, and then gradually."
Check out the following link to calculate what your water bill may look like. http://www.hwd.com/estimator/index.htm
A public meeting on the water rate hikes will be held at 5:30 on July 14 at Fuerte Elementary School, 11625 Fuerte Drive, El Cajon in the multipurpose room.
There will be several additional water rate public presentation meetings:
• City Council Lemon Grove (July 20, 6pm)
• City Council El Cajon (July 27, 3pm)
• City Council La Mesa (July 13, 4pm)
• Unincorporated SD County Area at Fuerte Elementary, July 14, 5:30 pm see flyer .
All board meetings are at 2 p.m. at the Helix Water District Board Room, 7811 University Drive, La Mesa. Below is a timeline for the rate increase to take effect:
June 17, 2010 Prop 218 notices prepared and mailed
August 4, 2010 Final Budget scheduled to be received and adopted by board.
August 18, 2010 Public Hearing and Adoption of Water Rates
November 1, 2010 New Rates Effective (including September and October use).