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.”
It 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.