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Carlsbad Will Rebate $237,000 in Water-Use Penalties

TIMES STAFF WRITER

About $237,000 in penalties will be rebated to some of the water users in Carlsbad who paid a total of nearly $1.2 million in fines under strict water conservation regulations enacted by the city.

In what turned out to be overkill, the Carlsbad City Council last spring adopted two systems of penalty rates. The rules required water users to cut consumption by 20% and set higher water rates for residents who used more than the city average.

This week, the council conceded that the system had treated some residents unfairly and ordered full penalty rebates for customers who had met the 20% conservation goal but were charged more because their usage was above the city average.

Geoff Poole, assistant general manager of the Carlsbad Municipal Water District, said an estimated $140,000 will be returned to high-volume water users, probably by next February or March. He estimated that rebates could go to as many as 4,500 customers. Most of those eligible for rebates are homeowners with large lots who used city water for landscaping or crops.

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By a 5-0 vote, the council agreed to give all all city water customers a $5.75 rebate, Poole said. The rebate represents the price of 3,740 gallons of water and will cost the city about $97,000.

Of the remaining penalty money, about $100,000 will be used to modernize the water district’s billing system while the rest--$862,300--will be placed in reserve in anticipation of water rate increases by the Metropolitan Water District and other contingencies, Poole said.

The council ordered the water district staff to re-examine the conservation system in October after nearly $1 million in penalties had been collected and residents with larger properties protested being penalized even though they achieved 20% reductions.

Residents complained of being penalized with rates double and triple those of other customers, in some cases paying more than customers who failed to meet 20% water savings.

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Poole said the council this week also approved a reduction in penalty rates and rescinded the city average usage limits, leaving only the 20% reduction requirement in place.

The new system is expected to reduce penalty accumulation from the current $260,000 a month to $33,000, “and will prevent another embarrassing buildup of funds,” Poole said.

Ann Mauch, Carlsbad activist who had fought against the “double-standard” penalty system, said she felt that the city “is back on the right track” with the revised water conservation system.

“I feel vindicated,” she said. “The people got together and protested the unfair system, and the system was changed.”

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