City Council Approves Water System Rate Increase

New rate needed to maintain infrastructure, says PWP

Published : Tuesday, January 12, 2016 | 6:16 AM

Pasadena City Council (File photo)

In its first regular meeting of 2016, the Pasadena City Council last night approved an a increase in water system rates which will result in an average estimated 10 to 11 percent increase in the monthly water rate for most of Pasadena’s customers.

PWP Assistant General Manager of Finance Shari Thomas told the Council the increase is necessary to provide enough revenue “to maintain the City’s investment in its water delivery infrastructure.” The CIC is fixed every year, “no matter the amount of usage,” said Thomas. But it is the overall usage that is reflected in a water bill, not the CIC, she explained.

While Pasadena has been saving an estimated 21 percent more water in drought mitigation efforts, and that has translated in to a net revenue loss over the last year.

“Our revenue is not what we expected,” Thomas said. Ironically, water sales have gone down due to businesses and consumers using less water as mandated by Governor Brown last year to relieve effects of the state’s stubborn drought.

Meanwhile, Pasadena is aiming for a 28 percent savings in water this year, and the infrastructure still needs to be maintained, said Thomas.

The average household receiving water through a 5/8” pipe, which is the most common usage in Pasadena, would see a 7.7 percent increase in its monthly water bill, while the largest water users, using an 8” water pipe, would see an 11.09 percent increase, Thomas reported. Overall rates may be readjusted again in July of 2016 and then go into effect in the fall.

Reaction from members of the community was predictably angry.

Resident Alexander Luna told the Council, “We’ve been conserving and now we are penalized? Please don’t pass this rate.”

Yet another resident said, “The forecasting predictions have been around for a while, and now you’re coming back here asking for more money? Where is the oversight?”

Ranjit Vishwanath calculated that the actual rise in the CIC would be 77 percent, not the figures stated, saying, “Give me a break, that’s wrong.” Another resident asked for an accounting and updates on which capital improvement projects have actually been completed.

When a number of residents took issue with the way the rate increase was presented in mailers sent to residents, Thomas responded: “It’s a choice as to how the information was presented.”

Councilmember Margaret McAustin also commented on the mailers sent to residents, saying, “It’s pretty mumbly-jumbly, and with all this tiny print. We need to take a look at this.” She also added, however, that the city has an obligation to protect its infrastructure.

Councilmember Steve Madison, who left the meeting early, had reservations about the rate increas.

“I wish we had studied this further.” Madison also cited a water rate process used by the City of Davis, which he described as “much more fair.”

And while the city has only been saving 21 percent more water, the PWP is calculating rates and revenue based on a 28 percent savings, which is the city’s goal, said Councilmember Victor Gordo pointed out.

“That doesn’t seem right. We should be discussing this on the basis of the current savings rate.” he said.

Councilmember Andy Wilson moved to approve the rate, with McAustin seconding. The motion passed 5-1, with Tyron Hampton objecting.

According to the PWP, $3.8 million of the new revenue from the increased  Capital Improvement Charge (CIC) charge would go towards supporting the department’s infrastructure; specifically $3.8 million for Distribution Mains, $1.9 million for the Monk Hill Treatment Plant, $1.8 million for the Arroyo Spreading Basins, and $1.9 million for reservoir improvements.

The city also approved the Finance Committee’s recommendation to appropriate the Human Services and Recreation Department’s operating budget for 2016 amounting to $335,733.