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Water rates may rise Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Aug 20 2011 12:00 PM

Ratepayers in the South Bay Irrigation District may see a 2.5 percent increase in their September water bill.

The proposed increase comes after rates last year rose by an average of 5.6 percent because of a water rate restructuring that was supposed to improve water conservation.

"The new increase is pretty minimal," said Richard Stevenson, director of finance for Sweetwater Authority. "Most calls we are receiving refer to last year's increase."

Mike Seiler, president of Bonita Highlands Homeowners Association, said residents were not anticipating such a high rate.

"We were expecting a modest increase and we were blindsided by this," he said.

"People began noticing the new rate structure, which emphasizes higher rates for those who use higher amounts of water, this summer," Stevenson said. "Larger lots and landscaping will put higher bills on those customers."

The Sweetwater Authority, which administers water rates and services for National City, Bonita and parts of Chula Vista, said they are proposing the increase to lower "readiness to serve" charge rates for lower water use customers, shift capacity cost burden over to medium to high water users and provide strong financial motivation to conserve water.

Jose Preciado is one of five board directors for the Sweetwater Authority. He said the rate increase is necessary to maintain the mission of the water agency.

"Our proposal is for a 2.5 percent increase associated with some capital construction that we'd like to accomplish this year and an additional rate increase county pass through rate, which will vary depending on water use," he said.

Seiler said the new rates are unfair to those who don't use a lot of water.

"The prime customers are being forced to subsidized the low to medium water users," Seiler said.

Preciado said the proposed rate increase is necessary but the issue needs to be examined closely.

"My position is that our upcoming rate increase is fair and minimal and will help get our capital improvements projects under way. But I absolutely believe we need to assess and investigate completely the rate increase and adjustments that were made the previous year because we have been receiving feedback and concerns about the impact it's having on some of our ratepayers," he said.

The meeting to consider another water rate increase is Wednesday, Aug. 24, at 6 p.m. at 505 Garrett Ave. in Chula Vista.

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