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Water gets more expensive Allison K. Sampité | Sat, Sep 01 2012 12:00 PM

The majority of the Sweetwater Authority board of directors approved a water rate increase for its users at a Monday board meeting.

The hike will affect low, medium and high water users beginning tomorrow.

In Sweetwater, one unit of water is equal to 748 gallons — or 100 cubic feet — of water.

The average customer uses 2,200 cubic feet or nearly 16,500 gallons of water in a two-month period.
Customers who use more than 10 units of water (7,480 gallons) will see a 6.5 percent per unit increase.

Finance director Rich Stevenson said the hike will provide an additional $2.9 million in revenue for the water agency, offsetting more than $8.7 million in necessary capital investments, including water treatment plant and distribution systems operations improvements and conducting hydro-geological studies.

Stevenson said conservation is at the discretion of each customer.

“It gives a lot of power to the customer to decide how much water they’re going to use,” he said.

Sweetwater Authority covers 35,805 parcels within its five districts and has more than a $49 million budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Some of the biggest costs within the budget include salaries and benefits, capital investments and water purchases.

With the total operating expense budget decreasing by $314,000 from last year, some ratepayers are upset that health and workers compensation insurance costs increased.

Bonita Highlands Homeowners Association President Mike Seiler and others opposed to the increase say the benefit packages and pensions are inappropriate.

“They also authorized each employee a three percent cost-of-living pay increase ... during a recession when other businesses, schools, city and even state and federal governments were laying off employees,” he wrote in an email prior to Monday’s meeting.

The board approved an average 5.6 rate increase two years ago, which implemented the current tiered system and lowered the readiness to serve charge significantly from $40 to $14.70.

The commodity charge is meant to reflect water usage, with lower costs to residents who conserve the most and higher costs to medium and high water use ratepayers.

For the last 12 months, Sweetwater Authority officials studied the current rate structure, making adjustments using a conservation rate structure for residential customers.

Stevenson said that all rate structures follow American Water Works Association standards to allocate costs to customers.

“In addition to following Prop. 218 practices in setting our water rates, the conservation increasing block tier structure for the single-family residence is supported by California Constitution Article X, section 2 … to encourage water use efficiency,” Stevenson said.

Board chairman Ron Morrison said: “If we don’t do the 6.5 percent increase then come say, Dec. 1, nobody gets water… We can’t do that, it doesn’t work that way.”

Director Jose Preciado who voted in favor of the increase, said he did so for good reason.

“I believe as I did two years ago that I’m voting in the best interest of the people and in the best interest of the district,” he said. Director Terry Thomas was the only one to oppose the increase.

The Sweetwater Authority serves a population of approximately 187,000 residents living in Chula Vista, Bonita and National City.

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