The City Council directed city staff Tuesday to look into how much residents pay for water, but two councilmen said they feared preparing a so-called rate study would eventually lead to higher bills.
“By authorizing this study, we’re really putting in an increase,” said Councilman Roy Byrnes. “Lets’ face it, no study was ever put into practice that resulted in a decrease.”
The council's last water rate study was approved February 2010, and it called for regular rate hikes through July 2013 and was intended to cover up through June 2014. City staff asked the council Tuesday to define which issues a new study should examine, with the work expected to take place in 2013-14 and include a plan for through 2019. The city has set aside $45,000 for the effort.
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Besides tapping into an underground aquifer, the city also imports water from the Metropolitan Water District, whose rates have gone up 91 percent in the last seven years, said Francine Kennedy, water conservation coordinator for the city. Rate hikes are expected to continue, she said.
Councilman Sam Allevato said it’s important the city monitor its “precious resource” and plan for the future. But he added, “I don’t want to pay higher rates if I don’t have to."
Byrnes called the others more optimistic than he, calling for staff to first look for ways to cut costs before increasing rates.
Councilman Larry Kramer acknowledged a rate study could precipitate higher water bills.
“We have a fiduciary duty to make sure enough money comes in to provide water for the residents,” Kramer said. “I think it’s responsible on our part to start a rate study now.”
Councilman Derek Reeve echoed Byrnes: “I’m absolutely convinced that what tonight is, is increasing the water bill. At some point we have to stop unnecessarily burdening our water rate payers.”
He said the city the small size of San Juan Capistrano cannot afford such a big enterprise as the groundwater recovery plant. He called it “throwing good money after bad.”
The council voted 3-2, with Byrnes and Reeve opposed, for staff to come up with the scope of a future rate study.