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CALABASAS : Water District to Hike Service Rates Nov. 1

Las Virgenes Municipal Water District customers will pay an average of $51.48 more a year for service after Nov. 1.

The agency’s board of directors unanimously approved the increase--the third in as many years. Board members said the hike is needed to make up for a shortfall due to declining revenues.

“When you think that the average customer is paying an additional $4.29 a month, it’s not a lot to maintain the quality of service they are getting,” district spokeswoman Bobbe Wymer said.

During the 1993-94 fiscal year, the district increased rates for residential customers $2.75 a month for water and $3 a month for sanitation. In fiscal year 1992-93, the agency increased rates by $3.36 a month for water.

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The latest increase will help fund the district’s $34.3-million operating budget for fiscal 1994-95, which has already been approved, Wymer said. Some customers will be charged slightly higher increases than others.

The Calabasas-based district is hurting financially because of lower revenues due to a decline in housing construction, Wymer said.

“Where we used to get $8 million to $10 million a year in water connection fees, we’re lucky if we get $1 million,” she said.

Meanwhile, Wymer said the agency has to continue funding repairs and maintenance and pay off debts incurred through such capital-improvement projects as the $50-million Rancho las Virgenes Composting Facility.

But critics charge that agency officials have been shortsighted in their long-range planning and that customers are being forced to shoulder the burden of repaying $60 million borrowed by the district in 1991.

“I think the district is in a position that they have no alternative except to have the community pay for the facilities that normally would have been paid for by new development,” said Diane Eaton.

“When we first conceived of the idea of the Rancho las Virgenes Composting Facility,” Wymer said, “we had no way of knowing that we would be down to zero growth.”

Other critics argue that existing customers should not have to pay any increases because they have already paid their connection fees.

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Ernie Dynda of Agoura Hills, president of United Organizations of Taxpayers, a Los Angeles-based taxpayers watchdog group, has argued that ratepayers are hard-pressed to afford what amounts to another tax increase. He cited as an example residents in Agoura Hills, who were levied a 4% tax on utilities for the first time this year.

Wymer said the district has tried to make all the spending cuts it can, including a hiring freeze and postponing some capital-improvement projects. Also, each department trimmed its budget by 20% and the district skipped employee pay raises that were due in July.


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