Water & Drought

Utilities commission favors water, wastewater rate increase

Workers with Teichert Construction replace water mains in Land Park in November. The city Utilities Department is proposing rate hikes to finance more work on water, wastewater and storm drainage systems.
Workers with Teichert Construction replace water mains in Land Park in November. The city Utilities Department is proposing rate hikes to finance more work on water, wastewater and storm drainage systems. Sacramento Bee file

Sacramento’s Utilities Rate Advisory Commission on Wednesday night passed a water and wastewater rate increase proposal along to the City Council for consideration.

This was the second public hearing on the proposed rate increases – 10 percent for water service and 9 percent for wastewater service – to go into effect on July 1. The motion passed 4-1-1.

As directed by the commission at the previous hearing Jan. 27, the Department of Utilities returned with estimates of the effect of slowing down the water meter installation program, which accounts for 86 percent of the projects funded by the water rate increases.

It would cost $28 million more in project management and material costs and lower the rate increase to 9 percent over four years, said Susan Goodison, the city’s business services manager.

Decelerating the program would also increase debt issuance costs and expose the city to interest rate risk, she said.

City Manager John Shirey spoke at the meeting to persuade the commission to approve the rates increases as originally proposed.

The city has ignored its infrastructure needs for decades, he said, and the bill has come due. And in the middle of a drought, water meters help control usage.

“Water meters are key in order to be able to give everybody a sense about the resources they’re using and paying for,” he said. “We’re not out of a drought yet.”

Commissioner Timothy Horner said he thinks the city has delayed infrastructure investment and water metering for long enough, and that the time had come to make hard decisions.

“What I’m hearing is that slowing down the water meter installation is not going to solve our problem,” Horner said.

Commissioner April Butcher abstained from the vote and Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Veal-Hunter voted “no.”

About 20 members of the public addressed the commission, many citing the burden of large rate increases on those with fixed income and allegations of mismanagement in the utilities department as reasons to reject the proposal.

Debra Desrosiers, with watchdog group Eye on Sacramento, said she doesn’t buy the argument that meters need to go in as soon as possible to improve water conservation.

“People are saving water because we know we’re in a drought,” she said. “Not because we’re on meters so much as we know that’s what we need to do as a community.”

Susan Gedestad said she understands the need for infrastructure repair, “but in four years and trying to cram things so quickly, I think that’s hugely unfair to the ratepayers.”

The City Council will consider the rate increase proposal in March.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison

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