Debate: The Facts on Lebec Water Rate Hike

Both sides of the issue are presented here. Michael Hightower, a residential customer, presents an argument for a "no" vote on the rate increase. Then read an explanation of why water rates need to be raised, presented by Steve Cozzetto, president of the Lebec County Water Board.

By Michael D. Hightower, LCWD residential customer

The water rates and tier systems proposed by the Lebec County Water District have completely missed the mark. They propose a 300-900 percent rate increase for Lebec residential customers, while the commercial customers have no rate increase at all.

At the same time, all the customers are expected to accept a decrease of 25 percent in water allotment from 1,000 cubic feet to a mere 750 cubic feet per month.

 Why is it that our neighbors in the Los Padres Estates get unlimited water for only $45 a month? For that matter, why is it that all the community water districts listed by LCWD in the recent newspaper articles [see chart at right] get unlimited water for a set price?

Our household consists of only two people. Our winter usage (which does not include landscaping or gardening) barely stays within the 750 c.f. to cover laundry, dishes, bathing and toilet usage. How is a family of more than two people going to cope with the proposed rates?

The board’s proposed rate increases ensure the residential customers will have dry plants surrounding their homes which will be a fire hazard. The green lawn surrounding my home not only increases its value, but provides a barrier to the wildfires that ravish these Mountain Communities each year. I feel the LCWD board fails to understand the gravity of the situation.

Paying more money for more water makes sense. I would gladly pay $45-$50 for 1,500 c.f.

The proposal our board backed does exactly the opposite, selling us less water for more money. The concept of giving the customer a value for their money and meeting the needs of the district at the same time evaded the board.

We do need to upgrade our system, but we should be doing it with a rate increase that includes all the customers, not just the residential.

The big meeting for the "no" vote will be held at the end of this month. I will be voting no. I feel the LCWD board needs to go back to the think tank, to give us more water, not less. For rate increases to be fair and balanced, they should be applied to all customers, not just the residential accounts.

Steve Cozzetto Replies for the Lebec County Water District

At $12.10 for 1,000 cubic feet a month, our district’s residential water customers have grossly underpaid for water for several years. We can’t continue to operate at current rates; nor is it fair for other rate classes to continue to subsidize the residential customers.

The LCWD board looked at many rate options based on input from customers who have attended the monthly meetings and from civil engineers hired to put together a proposal. All options had pros and cons.

The option unanimously chosen by the board balances the concerns of our customers, generates enough revenue to cover daily operations and covers the costs of system upgrades while encouraging water conservation.Water allotments are an outdated benefit, not an entitlement. Frazier Park and Pine Mountain, for instance, do not offer allotments anymore. Allowing unlimited water use does not promote water conservation.

But, based on customer input, we did keep an allotment. Most residential customers in our district stay below the 750 cubic feet being proposed. But you could double your use to 1,500 c.f. of water for just $51.50-much as you suggested-because the tier rate is just 2 cents per cubic foot after your base is consumed.

With the new rate structure, the monthly base rate covers fixed operating costs and reserves. The tier rates cover the actual cost to produce and deliver water.

Most residential customers will see an increase of 300 percent over today’s $12.10 base rate to bring them into a normal range for the cost of water. [See above for a copy of the chart you mentioned].

Rates for commercial 1" and larger users will increase 166- 266 percent, with an 87.5 percent decrease in allotment (from 2,000 c.f. down to 250 c.f.).

The rate for our ?" commercial users is where it should be, but their allotment is also dropping by 87.5 percent.

A financially stable water district that is able to provide safe and reliable water to its customers is giving customers the most value for their money.

Cozzetto is LCWD board president.

This is part of the May 20, 2011 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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