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Oxnard May Cut Water Rates as Lure for Business : Utilities: Small firms and large residential users could see their bills go up under the proposed changes in the rate structure.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Utility bills for Oxnard’s largest commercial water users would decrease under a proposed rate change scheduled for City Council review today.

In an effort to lure new industries and retain existing ones, city staff members are pitching a plan that would drive down water costs for businesses once they consume more than 748,000 gallons a month.

Once industries use more than 4.4 million gallons a month, the price would shrink even more.

“The goal of the water rate structure review is to promote economic development in the city,” said Utilities Director Ben Wong, noting that Oxnard water prices currently are higher than some neighboring cities. “We want to make our water rates more competitive with other cities.”

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But under the proposed rate change, small businesses and large residential users could end up paying more than they now pay for city water.

If approved, the new rate structure would hike the cost to commercial customers who use less than 748,000 gallons of water a month. The price also would increase for residential customers who use more than 15,700 gallons a month.

Of the city’s 24,300 residential water users, only 1,572 use more than 15,700 gallons a month.

Nevertheless, the new rate plan has advocates for the poor worried that Oxnard officials are trying to gain a competitive business edge at the expense of low-income residents.

“I am concerned that this may ultimately result in the cost of water being shifted from commercial enterprises to residential users, such as large, low-income families,” said Eileen McCarthy, a lawyer with California Rural Legal Assistance which provides free legal help to farm workers.

The board of directors for the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce earlier this month voted to support the new rate structure, although some members expressed concerns about the impact it would have on small businesses.

“There was still some concern,” said Penny Hoffman, the chamber’s executive director. “We felt there were still some unanswered questions.”

Wong said he and his staff have been considering ways to restructure water rates for more than a year.

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In recent months, Wong said he received a request to review the rate structure by the city’s largest commercial water user, Procter & Gamble Paper Products Co. The company, which has an annual water bill of about $1 million, is planning to expand its east Oxnard facility and was concerned about the cost of doing business in the city, Wong said.

A review of Oxnard’s commercial water rates revealed that Simi Valley and Camarillo charged significantly less for water.

Future rate increases, already planned by the city’s water supplier, Metropolitan Water District, would continue to keep Oxnard at a competitive disadvantage with other cities, Wong concluded.

“These are all costs of doing business,” Wong said. “We’re trying to help wherever we can without hurting any other industry or any other resident in the city.”

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Wong said the new rate structure also is designed to promote water conservation.

The fee hike for the biggest residential water users is aimed at curtailing water usage. And in order for commercial customers to be eligible for the city’s lowest rate, they will have to prove that their companies are using state-of-the-art water conservation methods.

“Everybody is paying their fair share,” Wong said.


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