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Red-Ink Drip Factor

Weekly Column by Loretta Redd

On this weekend’s political talk show programs, when asked why Vladimir Putin dared to increase his presence in the Ukraine, the answer basically was, “Because he can.”

water-rates-increaseIt may be a far stretch from the Black Sea of the Baltic to the Santa Barbara Water Resources department, but the news of yet another rate hike left me to wonder if it isn’t also, “Because they can.”

In July 2013, the Water Department released its Rate Study and “multi-year financial Plan and water rate structure that:

  • promotes water conservation
  • provides revenue stability
  • ensures customers pay their proportionate share of costs
  • is fair and equitable, and
  • is based on cost of service principles, as required by Proposition 218

The structure of rate charges for water and water-related services is complicated by its ever-changing categories and tiers of allocation.  The charges vary based on amount of use, type of use, delivery pipe size, residential or commercial or agricultural.  What is consistent, however, is the upwards direction of each of our utility bills.

In that July 2013 study, the residential rate was listed as $39.21, set to increase to $40.78.  In the Finance Committee meeting happening this Tuesday, our Water Resources folks plan to ask for yet another raise, to $43.00.  I imagine the staff report will contain bureaucratic language like “appropriate means of recovering additional costs related to water services,” “infrastructure improvement,” or that often used,  “customer related service costs.”

Funny, how the red ink never seems to suffer from a drought.

“Water rates must cover the costs of all of the operations of providing water to the City water customers,” according the City’s current web page.  But if “City water costs are mostly fixed,” and “purchasing the water itself is actually only a very small part of the budget,” then why do they need to raise rates every time they appear before Council?

Their answer,  according to this on-line missive, is “inflation.” My definition of their “inflation” has more to do with salaries and benefits, than the cost of purchasing state water, or materials and supplies.

I really want to know why didn’t the Water Resources department and the hundreds of other regional water “experts” didn’t sound the alarm- and I mean alarm- earlier about the drought?  Everybody from grandma to the gophers knew we were in trouble, but we continued to be assured it was far too soon to panic, or be told to meaningfully conserve.

I begin to feel like a conspiracy theorist when I read quotes like this from the City’s current water rate increase justification, “If the City is not able to meet all our customers’ water demands with its current water supplies and through the efforts of its customers conserving water, more expensive water sources will have to be developed.  Any new supply would significantly increase overall City water costs, which would cause a far greater increase to the City’s water rates.”

Supply and demand makes sense whether we’re talking about H2O or salaries and benefits…trouble is, they both result in higher costs to consumers.

Would the Council or Finance Committee find it beneficial to have a twenty-year historical review of just one consistent water related item?  That period of time would take us back through the last drought, as well as through time of plenty, when reservoirs were spilling over.  Would a twenty year salary and benefit chart be helpful as well, or are we to believe this increase is only about pipes and meters?

I don’t want to pick on any Water Resources department staff, whose competency and professionalism are not in question.  I just can’t understand why water rates have to be (1)so complicated, (2) always heading upward, (3) seemingly more tied to compensation than production.

I do hold elected officials responsible when they seem to be about as effective in holding down costs, as Obama in getting Putin to roll back his tanks.

7 Responses to “Red-Ink Drip Factor”

  1. Anonymous

    And in the next election the majority of voters will elect the very same people who will routinely raise water rates……sigh.

  2. Anonymous

    Oh, and start water conservation efforts before a drought.

  3. Anonymous

    Does anyone remember back to the General Plan process the number of residents who brought up the issue of Santa Barbara overdevelopment means living beyond its finite natural resources, most importantly, WATER? The supposed environmentalists on staff and council acted as though those discussions–and those who made them–were, frankly, stupid, and not worthy of consideration. This is so predictable it’s not even funny, with the double standards for the wealthy to use all the water, land, resources they want, and the continual cranking up the fees because, hey, the middle class can’t do anything about it–or can just leave, right?

  4. Anonymous

    The two basic fees, for the actual water and for the ‘overhead’, have to add up to enough to run the water department. Obviously, if the water supply is low and therefore not as much is sold, the money has to come from the ‘overhead’ fees, meter charges, etc. Our system is a little schizophrenic, in that the incentive to save water so we’ll have some later, which we should do all the time, is over-ridden by the need to sell more and more water.

    That’s what we get when we put the profit motive and money above our common needs such as water, utilities, phone, trash. De-regulation has resulted in huge increases in costs to us, therefore a huge increase in profits for the utilities. And that’s why a rich guy with a well can suck up as much water as he feels like, cost is not a factor, and there is no system to prevent that because the money rules the show. Oh you didn’t think the politicians ran anything did you? Perhaps we should metaphorically sharpen those guillotine blades. And shut down the polo fields while we’re at it, seen those sprinklers? Especially the fake polo field on Lambert/Via Real. Or was that a sod farm.

    And even if the water district tries to put a flow restrictor on any meters, the lawyers will take them to the river for a hose down. After all, those twelve bathrooms are needed to flush down all the …well you get the idea.

  5. Not sure why my original comment was deleted? Shades of that other site that so many of us have fled. I still think that the attempted analogy to events in Ukraine is ludicrous and doesn’t serve the point of this article.

    • el_smurfo

      Unlike that other site you mention, this one uses auto-moderation that sometimes triggers falsely. Couple that with a site owner that seems to have a life outside of peeping every comment for unauthorized opinions and you sometimes get your comments disappearing for a bit until the mod queue is reviewed. Happens especially if you mention a columnist by name, or use profanity. I much prefer this model…I find it super creepy to think of a room of low paid interns smugly combing every comment for ThoughtCrime.

  6. Arithmetic

    We need raise the water rates so the Earl Warren Showgrounds can continue to pay low subsided water rates as if they were real residents and under the jurisdiction of the city.