Proposed water-rate hikes in Glendale create some heat

While Glendale Water & Power officials tried Thursday evening to convince customers that the same mistakes that bungled multiple years of water rate increases and prompted a proposal for four more years of hikes won't be repeated, many said they've lost trust in the utility.

What bothered resident Mark Veneri the most was that the four years of water rate increases approved in 2011 — which overcharged some customers and undercharged others leading to the utility collecting $8.8 million less than officials expected — went through multiple layers of official review, including the City Council, and still no one caught the errors until it was too late.

"It just infuriated me," Veneri said at the meeting at the Verdugo Hills Council Boy Scouts of America building. "Nobody looked at the numbers."

Glendale Water & Power General Manager Steve Zurn said utility staff didn't catch the consultant's mistakes because officials at the time didn't have the expertise to do so and were relying on Willdan Financial Service's calculations.

However, he assured the roughly 15 people at the final of four community meetings about the rate hikes that the rate plan created by a new consultant, Bartle Wells Associates, has been thoroughly vetted by a team of auditors and lawyers.

But some still had doubts.

"Who says it isn't going to happen again and then we as the citizens pay for the error," said resident Pat Hawkins.

On July 22, the council is expected to vote on a proposed rate plan that would ratchet up rates, on average, by a compounded 21.8% over four years. The rate changes would differ depending on water use, customer type and meter size.

Under the proposed plan, monthly water bills for average single-family residences, five-unit multifamily complexes and commercial customers would increase by $17.98, $46.04 and $16.67, respectively, by fiscal year 2017-18.

For Mary Hunt, who lives with her husband in a single-family home, her bimonthly bill would increase by about $11, or 29.6% over the four years, according to a rate calculator available at the meeting.

"I conserve," she said, adding that she has removed about a third of the grass from her backyard and is in the process of replacing her frontyard with drought tolerant plants. "I was taken aback at my increase."

The council has proposed an average revenue increase of 5% the first year followed by three years of 4% jumps. Hunt said she'd prefer another option that wouldn't hit her pocketbook as hard. Others include 4% bumps over four years and 5% the first year followed by three years of 2% escalations, according to a city report.

In addition to the general increases, the proposed water rates include a proposed drought charge, which would add between 76 cents and $3.07 per hundred cubic foot, or 748 gallons, to monthly bills depending on drought severity in order to buoy Glendale Water & Power's revenues as more customers conserve. The average single-family homeowner uses about 19 hundred cubic feet per month.

Some in the audience bristled that they could conserve more if the city would let them replace grass in their frontyards with artificial turf — a suggestion the City Council has rejected in the past, choosing instead to encourage residents to replace their lawns with drought-tolerant plants.

But several at the meeting said they disliked the look of drought-tolerant plants and would prefer a grass lawn, even if it was plastic.

"I don't like all that deserty stuff," said resident Jan Giocoma. "I like grass. I don't want to give it up."


Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.


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