City considers increasing water rate

DOWNEY - The City Council has passed a resolution adopting the city's water system master plan, a product of the thinking of outside consultants and city staff. The action was at Tuesday's council meeting.Its chief recommendation is a re-structuring of water rates if the city is, in the words of its chief architect, public works director John Oskoui, to "continue providing reliable, high quality, cost-effective water service to its current and future customers." Two-and-a-half years in the making, the master plan takes a comprehensive and close hard look at the city's water system, its future potential demand and associated anticipated costs, and otherwise re-establish the water fund's original status as a self-sustaining fund. The proposed rate increase will be spread out over five years, Oskoui said, to ease the impact on pocketbooks, and will feature new tiered rates. As the system is funded through these water rates and fees, not taxes, the typical single-family residential customer under the new rates would, for instance, see a water bill increase of about $4.50 a month in 2011-12. The effects on an individual customer's bill will depend on the amount of water used by the customer. Thus the less water a customer uses, the lower the rate that will be charged. A public hearing on the proposed water rate is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on June 28 in the council chambers at Downey City Hall. Each property owner and rate payer has the right to submit a written protest against the proposed rate by mail or in person to the city clerk no later than the conclusion of the public hearing on the above date. Protests against the proposed rates will be considered by the city at the public hearing. In any case, the master plan makes clear that for 2011-12, in comparison with the water rates other neighboring cities such as Cerritos, Lakewood, Paramount, Long Beach, South Gate, Montebello, Signal Hill, etc., charge its consumers, Downey's rates register the lowest; even with the proposed rate adjustment, the worst future projections place the city in the middle range of the rate spectrum. This is because the other cities are forced to import most of their water even as their other operational and maintenance costs continue to escalate, he explained. This is the city's first water rate adjustment proposal in 16 years, Oskoui said. Over the same period, the cost of maintaining and operating the water system has increased significantly. The charges from outside agencies (power, insurance, Central Basin water district, etc. - accounting for nearly half of the water operations budget) have in the meantime seen dramatic increases. The current water rates, he said, do not meet the operating expenses of the system. The city has been operating at a deficit three years in a row, and "the increasing costs have become a burden on the city's general fund." Also, he pointed out, "much of the Downey water system was constructed during the post-WWII building boom, more than 60 years ago. Some water wells are even older. Downey continues to rehabilitate these old pipes and wells. But the recent water system master plan identified projects that are essential for the safety, security, and reliability of the water system. One of these is the addition of 750 acre-ft./year to the system. These pressing improvement projects have been delayed because there are not enough funds available to pay for the projects." "Without the rate adjustment," he went on, "the integrity of the city's water system will be seriously compromised." Residents who have questions about the proposed water rate adjustment may call the city's public works department at (562) 904-7102.

********** Published: April 14, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 52