Water Overuse Penalties May Be on Way Out : Conservation: Plan calls for end to drought-related charges. But basic fees would be increased.


Under a plan unveiled in Beverly Hills this week, penalty fees for excess water consumption would be eliminated, but water rates would increase 20% to 44% for some households. The proposal was presented during a City Council study session and will be formally heard by the council at its June 9 meeting.

If the council approves the rates proposed by the Public Works Commission and city staff, they will go into effect July 1. The new rates would coincide with a price increase by the city's water supplier, the Metropolitan Water District.

The proposed rate schedule for single-family homes calls for a flat service charge of $12.33, with additional fees based on actual water consumption to be billed every two months.

Customers will be charged $1.09 per unit for the first 10 units of water consumed over a two-month period. A unit is equal to 748 gallons, and the average use is 55 units.

Customers will be charged $1.20 per unit for the next 45 units. For each unit over 55, the charge will be $1.76.

In addition, the city will charge 47 cents per unit to pay for maintaining about 80 miles of city water lines and its pumping stations.

Similar schedules would apply to multifamily buildings and to commercial and industrial users. Sewer and excess landfill and recycling charges, which are billed with water, will remain the same.

The new rates would pass on to residents an increase from the Metropolitan Water District of about 10%, City Manager Mark Scott said. It will also reorganize the billing structure and spread the costs more evenly among all users.

The present rates reward customers for using less than 80% of their 1989 consumption and penalizes those who use more.

That billing structure, imposed because of the five-year drought, resulted in widely varying bills for the same amount of water used. A bill for 100 units of water could range from $168.19 to $332.58, depending on how much water the household used in 1989.

Under the new rate structure, residents using 100 units would all pay $203.43.

The new schedule should end the confusion associated with conservation requirements, said Donald Oblander, the city's director of finance administration.

However, the new pricing structure could result in increases of 20% to 44% for some households, Oblander said.

Small volume users will have the largest percentage increase, with bills rising as much as 44.39%. Residents who now pay $30.91 for 20 units will pay $44.63, or $13.72 more, under the new plan.

Small-volume users will still be rewarded with lower fees per unit, but the fees would be based on a flat rate rather than their individual 1989 usage.

"Despite the large percentage increase, this is still lower than current rates in many other local cities," Oblander said.

The rate increase would be less noticeable among high-volume users, who may see increases of about 20% to 25%. A single-family dwelling using 400 units would pay $705.49 under the present structure and $872.43, or 23.66% more, under the new schedule.

Water sales will bring in an estimated $10.4 million to the city for the 1991-92 fiscal year ending June 30, with penalties bringing the total to nearly $14 million. The new billing structure is expected to bring in $11.6 million during the 1992-93 fiscal year beginning July 1.

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