Utility fee hikes on table

Burbank Leader

CITY HALL — The City Council on Tuesday is slated to consider raising rates for utilities, trash collection and sewer services as officials struggle with the increased cost of materials and doing business.

Ron Davis, general manager of Burbank Water and Power, is proposing to raise water rates by 13.5%, which would pencil out to an additional $7 a month for the average residential customer.

Electrical rates would increase by 2.9%, or roughly $5 per month, beginning midyear. Higher-end users could expect an average raise of $10.

The proposals could meet a mixed reception on the dais. Councilman David Gordon earlier in the week called on his colleagues to give residents a temporary reprieve, even as his colleague Dave Golonski cited significant drivers for the increases, including cost and supply challenges and decreased demand, which means less revenue for the city departments.

"The practice that we take is to recover our costs — no more, no less — and do everything we can to minimize those costs," Golonski said. "And I think that's the prudent and smartest way to do it."

The proposed water rate increase incorporates a 7.5% increase in the wholesale charges by the utility's largest supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Groundwater production has also become more expensive, Davis said.

It also accounts for a 10% drop in demand and related financing costs of $39 million.

In Burbank, the amount customers pay will depend on their usage, with the largest users expected to experience hikes approaching 15%, said Jim Lazar, the city's consultant who designed the rate structure.

"Those customers that really constrained their usage to only essential needs would get the smallest percentage rate increases," Lazar said. "[We designed] it in a gradual way so that nobody got hammered too hard, too fast, in a manner in which they couldn't respond."

The average water bill would increase to $59.29; and the rate structure requires multifamily and commercial customers to install water-saving devices by June 30 or face fines of up to 50% of their bill per month until they comply.

Changes in the electric rates were attributed to the increased cost of power and the expense of pursuing cleaner, newer energy sources.

Still, Davis said the city remains solidly in the bottom third compared with competitors like Glendale, Los Angeles and investor-owned utilities such as Southern California Edison and PG&E.

The proposed 5% rate increase for sewer service was in line with the council's direction in 2007 to smooth a proposed 28% fee hike over five years. The monthly rate for single family homes would increase by roughly $1 due to higher charges passed on by Los Angeles for wastewater treatment services.

For trash collection, the proposed budget accounts for an 8% rate increase as part of a similar five-year rate-smoothing plan. Public Works Director Bonnie Teaford told the council earlier this month that the $2 more per month on a 64-gallon trash cart would ensure the economic viability of the city's refuse and recycling operations by charging residents.

But Gordon called on his colleagues to provide relief, particularly for senior citizens and those on fixed incomes.

He also argued that the city would not suffer a financial catastrophe if the council were to relax, or freeze, the rate increases.

"There's some very serious concerns that I have about utility rates because this is not a business, it's a city that provides services," he said.

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