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Board President Dan McMillan votes against the measure

By Paul Kruze, Contributing Editor

August 17, 2019 (La Mesa) -- Water from the Helix Water District (HWD), which serves some 276,000 residents throughout East County San Diego, is going to get a little more expensive in spite of ample water supply in storage.

In a 4-1 vote with Board President Dan McMillan dissenting, the HWD directors approved a rate increase of 2.9 percent over current residential rates. That’s slightly less than the 3.3 percent anticipated at the May 15 board meeting, which also projected anticipated rate hikes of 5.3 to 5.4 percent in years two through five.

According to HWD, for an average family that consumes 21 water units, the increase amounts to $4.59 making the total for a two-month bill $160.94. Last year’s average increase on a two-month bill was $5.18 which resulted in a two-month bill of $156.35. (Each billing unit is 100 cubic feet of water, which is equal to 748 gallons.)

Multi-family water rates will increase to $5.64 (up 13 cents) and  commercial/government entities will increase to $5.70 per unit (up 13 cents).

Another factor in a reduced rate increase is due to a wet winter which brought about higher than normal local runoff.

The increase in water rates will be effective on Jan. 1, 2020.

In a presentation by HWD Director of Administrative Services Jennifer C. Bryant, different rate scenarios were considered by the Board. At an earlier meeting, the Board approved the option which directs revenues into the district’s reserves at a minimum rate of five percent during each of the five years of the water rate projection. The purpose of maintaining a reserve fund is to reasonably shield water users from large increases in rate due to extraordinary circumstances due to droughts, major lawsuits, or other unbudgeted major expenses.

In an e-mail statement provided to East County Magazine, McMillan said that he voted against the increase, keeping a campaign promise he gave to his Lemon Grove constituents to vote “no” on rate increases if the district had adequate funds.

“HWD ran a surplus last year, and I feel they would have adequate funds this year without the increase. Also, $1.8M was transferred to a reserve fund, this action could have been delayed,” McMillan says.

He adds, “A big plus for HWD customers is they own Lake Cuyamaca that produced over 8,000-acre feet (AF) of runoff water last year. After evaporation loss, etc. HWD will net over 6,000 AF of runoff water that has a value of $8.4 million. Some of the runoff was used last fiscal year, and 2000 AF this year. I would have preferred using more runoff water this year and only increase charges for the “pass through” cost from the San Diego County Water Authority.”

As ECM has reported previously, almost half the District’s budget is for purchasing water from the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) and the Metropolitan District.

The SDWCA has already approved a rate increase of five percent, which was a key factor considered by those who voted in favor of the Helix rate hike.

Follow Paul Kruze on Twitter and Facebook: @PaulKruzeNews

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