Fullerton looks at increasing its water rates; frugal users would also pay more

by in News

Fullerton plans to increase its water rates by nearly 60 percent in the next four years to repair the city’s aging infrastructure.

To stabilize the system’s revenue source, the city also plans to shift its rate structure so that users pay more in a fixed fee that isn’t tied to water usage. But that change means residents using less water, as well as residents who have bigger water meters, would bear a greater burden than under the current structure.

The City Council is holding a public hearing June 4 on the proposed rate increase. If the council approves the changes they could go into effect as soon as July 1.

Half of the city’s 420 miles of water pipes is more than 50 years old and is immediately, or will be soon, in need of repairs, said Thad Sandford, chair of the city’s Citizen’s Water Rate Study Ad Hoc Committee, which proposed the rate increases. The city said it has about 100 water pipe breaks a year.

“They are failing fast,” Sandford said of the pipes. “By no means are we catching up.”

The city has been replacing less than two miles of pipes a year, he said. With the proposed rate hikes, the city would plan to replace up to nine miles of the pipes a year by late 2023.

The rate increases are also expected to pay for repairs to other parts of the water system, such as wells and pump stations.

The rates would be adjusted so residents are paying more in fixed cost; that increase would happen for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

In the current rate structure, a single-family household with a 1-inch water meter pays $17.74 plus $3.21 per 1,000 gallons for the first 7,500 gallons used in a month.

In the new structure, the same household would pay $41.30 plus $2.28 per 1,000 gallons for the first 12,800 gallons used in a month, starting in 2019-20.

The rates tied to water usage would also see annual increases starting in 2020-21, rising over three years. The fixed rate will also increase over time.

Fritz Von Coelln, a Fullerton resident and an advocate for water conservation, said the new structure with higher fixed cost would punish those who conserve water.

“They are being unfairly taxed,” he said.

Sandford acknowledged Coelln’s point, but said the change is necessary to make sure the system’s revenue source remains stable. During the recent droughts, the city received much less money than it expected because of residents conserving water, Sandford said.

Those who use less water would still pay much less than water-guzzling households, he said.

“The fact is there is a fundamental cost for providing the service of water which is necessary in a modern community, and there’s no escaping the fact you have to pay for it,” he said. “What we are hoping is the most people will be able to roll with it and over time, they will be able to accommodate it.”

Residents can protest the proposed rate increase, instructions on how to lodge a protest by the June 4 deadline are on the city’s website.