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By Miriam Raftery

June 27, 2012 (La Mesa) – By a 4-1 vote with Director Kathleen Hedberg dissenting, the Helix Water District board of directors voted to approve a water rate study that recommends rate hikes.  The increase would average 4.7 percent, or $2.75 a month for the average water user, though owners of larger properties face substantially heftier increases.

If half or more of all property owners n the district send written objections, the increase would be blocked.  Protest letters must be sent by standard mail or hand-delivered to Helix. (ECM is protesting the District's unreasonable refusal to allow e-mail comments.)

In addition, a public meeting on the rate hikes will be held July 10 at 6 p.m. in the La Mesa Community Center, 4975 Memorial Drive.  A final vote is expected at a Board hearing on August 15 at 6 p.m. at Helix Water District’s hearing room, 7811 University Ave.

The District contends that the rate increase is necessary due to an increase in cost of wholesale water by 9.5 percent, as well as higher amounts of water that the District needs to purchase due to dry year conditions.  Water purchases account for 43 percent of the District’s budget.

At the June 6 meeting, several members of the public rose to protest the rate increase.  Several objected to the lower rates for tier one users and contended it is unfair to “subsidize” some water users while larger lot owners, many of whom grow their own food, face increasingly unaffordable water bills. 

That argument carried no weight with Board president DeAna Verbeke, who stated, “If you want to have trees, an orchard…it’s a choice we make and we have to pay for that.”

Verbeke stated that all users pay the lower rate for the first ten units of water used, though that is small consolation to ratepayers with extended families, orchards or gardens.

The District proposes to use $3.1 million in cash reserves to minimize the rate increase. In the past five years, wholesale water rates have increased 110 percent and Helix ratepayers have seen significant rate hikes already.

One speaker called for pension reforms as an alternative to rate hikes.  The District contends that it has made significant contributions toward reducing overhead costs, including cutting 18 full-time and 9 part-time positions, as well as having employees participate in cost-sharing of retirement costs.

For more information on the proposed rate hikes, visit http://www.hwd.com/  


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