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Water rates increased

Turning on the tap in parts of Laguna Beach will cost a little more starting in July.

The City Council, sitting Tuesday afternoon as the Laguna Beach County Water District Board, voted to increase the rates for water use by .03%.

The district supplies water to the city north of Nyes Place and also to Emerald Bay.

The rate increase would not have been imposed if 51% of the owners of parcels subject to the proposed change had submitted a written protest to the board at or before the meeting, as mandated by state Proposition 218.

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“Forty-two letters of protest were submitted, mostly from people on fixed incomes,” District General Manager Renae Hinchey said.

The rates will be increased from $2.85 per 750 gallons to $2.94, estimated to be between $16.20 and $21.60 a year. Notice of the rate increase and the means to block it were sent with bills in April.

Two residents attended the meeting.

“I am retired and I live on a fixed income,” David Keegan said. “My gas bill is $17 a month. My Edison bill is $15 a month. You are charging $18 for service and I haven’t even opened the tap yet.”

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The service charge is based on the size of the customer’s meter. Commissioner Susan Trager said the service charge is what keeps the district going.

“I think something should be done for people who are hanging on by their fingernails,” Wendt Terrace resident Lee Raymer said.

Raymer’s sentiment was endorsed by the council/board, which instructed district staff to look for ways to ease the burden on low-income customers.

Laguna has the highest rate of any city in Orange County.

District General Manager Renae Hinchey said the increase was needed to offset higher costs of operations and water.

“We are not out to make a profit,” Hinchey said.

Eight cents of the nine-cent increase is due to the increase by the city’s water supplier, over which the district has no control.

“We are the only district wholly dependent on imported water,” Hinchey said.

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Hinchey said imported water is the most expensive source but the half-cent-per-gallon fee charged by the district is very reasonable when compared to the price of bottled water.

But sources are drying up.

“One third of Laguna’s water supply was cut off recently because of fish in the water at the delta,” said Trager, an attorney who specializes in water rights. “The district has to make a decision about funding dependable sources of water.”

The rate increase, which will take effect July 1 and be charged on the bills sent after Sept. 1, was approved as part of the district’s 2007-08 budget, which was adopted at the meeting.

In other action, the board reappointed incumbents Trager and Mark Lewis to the commission.

“It’s hard to take off incumbents who are doing a good job and that is what we have,” Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman said.

The meeting was conducted by board Vice President Kelly Boyd in the absence of board President Jane Egly.


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