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Residents protest repeated rate increases by Citrus Heights Water District

CHWD, Citrus Heights Sentinel
A notice on the Citrus Heights Water District’s website notifies users of a proposed rate increase. // CH Sentinel

Sentinel staff report–
The Citrus Heights Water District will hold a public hearing on Nov. 8 regarding another proposed water rate and service fee increase. In response, some residents have mailed in protest letters and at least one neighborhood association has cancelled its monthly meeting so residents can attend the hearing.

In a legally required Proposition 218 mailer about the proposed rate increase, the water district said increases in both service fees and water consumption rates are necessary to avoid debt and provide for replacement of aging water mains and meters, as well as expand the District’s groundwater well systems. Hilary Straus, the water district’s general manager, told The Sentinel the rate increase is also needed to compensate for rising wholesale water costs from the San Juan Water District, with wholesale costs expected to rise another 50% by 2021.

As of Nov. 1, a total of 21 protest letters were submitted to the District, with letters largely expressing frustration at the District’s increase in water rates each year. Complaints also cite rising fixed service charges and the hardships that rising costs pose to those on a fixed income.

“We have had rate increases every year for several years,” wrote resident Renee Manwaring in a letter included in the board’s Nov. 8 agenda packet. “The district managers need to stop treating the property owners like an ATM machine and learn to better manage the money and resources they have.”

Although Citrus Heights water rates are proposed to rise only a modest 3%, from about 99 cents up to $1.02 per unit of water (748 gallons), resident protest letters seem to express more concern about the district’s track record of raising rates every year since 2012.

In 2015, residents with a typical 1-inch meter paid $56.13 in fixed service fees and 77 cents per unit of water. The proposed increase would bring bi-monthly service fees up to $74.46 and $1.02 per unit, about 33% higher than water rates and fees paid in 2015.

In raising rates by 3% in 2014, a District mailer said it was following a recommendation from a 2013 Water Rate Study conducted by the Reed Group, which recommended “a 3% increase each year through 2018 to prevent the need to issue debt to cover infrastructure maintenance and replacement.” It is unclear why the District did not follow the same recommendation in raising rates by 14% in 2015 and another 13% last year, but Straus previously told The Sentinel that the Reed Group study operated on a “different set of assumptions” than the District has now.

From last year: Citrus Heights Water District approves 13% rate hike, despite protests

According to a CHWD rate comparison chart, the District’s rates are still slightly below the regional average, although a Sentinel review of fees and rates charged for 1-inch meters by neighboring water districts in Fair Oaks and Orangevale showed charges were significantly below those charged by the Citrus Heights Water District.

Fair Oaks Water District has maintained the same bi-monthly service charge amount of $65.10 from 2015 to current, and has also maintained a much lower per-unit cost of 45 cents while receiving wholesale water from the same supplier as CHWD. Orangevale Water District has also maintained a bi-monthly service charge of $48.38 since 2016, along with a 66-cent per-unit cost for actual water consumption. The Sacramento Suburban Water District is set for a 4% increase in 2018 and currently charges just over $19 in bi-monthly service charges, although it has a higher tiered rate of up to $1.12 per unit of water.

Related: Citrus Heights Water District seeks applicants for new 17-member advisory board

CHWD’s upcoming public hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 8 in the Rusch Park Community Center, located at 7801 Auburn Blvd. If approved, the increase will affect about two-thirds of Citrus Heights residents, as some Citrus Heights residents are served by neighboring water districts and will not face the proposed rate increase.

Public Hearing Info:

Date: Nov. 8, 2017
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Rusch Park Community Center
Sunrise Patio Room
7801 Auburn Blvd.
Citrus Heights, CA

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