Encinitas water district rates go up Monday
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2010 AT 12:04 A.M.
ENCINITAS — Encinitas residents who live within the boundaries of the city's water district will begin paying higher rates Monday despite a grass roots opposition effort launched by the city's taxpayer association.
The Encinitas City Council voted 4-1 Wednesday to approve the rate increases. It had received 1,070 signed protests from property owners. (Notices had been sent to 13,005 property owners.)
Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan, chairwoman of the water board, said that while she understands that people don't want to pay more, the increases are justified. Emphasizing the importance of investing in infrastructure, she said that keeping rates low and drawing on reserves may be easy, "but a couple of water breaks and it doesn't look so attractive."
An average family will see an increase of $9.88 per month if water consumption remains the same. If the family reduces consumption by a target of 8 percent because of the drought, the increase will be $6.09 per month. District officials said the rate increases reflect the higher cost of imported water, as well as capital costs, such as replacing the San Dieguito Reservoir Pump Station.
The San Dieguito Water District serves customers on the west side of the city, in Leucadia, Old Encinitas, Cardiff and parts of New Encinitas.
It is managed by Encinitas Public Works Director Larry Watt, who reports to its board of the directors, the Encinitas City Council. The Encinitas Taxpayers Association campaigned against the water rate increase, with its vice president, Kevin Cummins, calling for changes in governance of the water district.
About a dozen people spoke before the council to oppose the rate hike. Many said the city hasn't done enough to control costs. The speakers raised questions about whether the water district is subsidizing city operations. Some suggested reducing wages and benefits for certain city employees whose salary costs are shared by the water district.
Donna Westbrook said the increase should be put to a public vote, and she criticized the cost-sharing arrangement. "It's another way of padding expenses to get more into the general fund," she said.
Councilwoman Teresa Barth opposed the water rate increase. She said she was swayed by the public comments, even though she was on the subcommittee with Councilman James Bond who recommended it.
She said she recognizes the need for a rate increase, "but we have to get our house in order as well before we continually ask the ratepayers to pay more."
Barth suggested implementing a lower rate increase temporarily, and drawing on reserves, to give the city time to analyze its personnel costs and reopen talks with employee unions.
Bond disagreed, saying he wants to avoid labor strife.