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Vote on Foothills area water rate hike delayed

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A vote on proposed water and sewer rate hikes for Foothills communities has been pushed back to at least the end of August. A water authority delayed a vote set for June 25 because of resident concerns that renters were dissuaded from protesting the proposed increases.
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Crescenta Valley Water District board members have delayed voting on a proposed increase in water and sewer rates that would have affected roughly 33,000 residents living in the Foothill communities, citing community concerns that renters were not informed of their right to protest the proposed hikes.

A vote on the new rates was originally scheduled for this past Tuesday.

A reworded notice of the proposed 7% and 4% increases in water and sewer rates, respectively, will tentatively be sent out during the week of July 8 to customers in La Crescenta, Montrose and portions of Glendale and La Cañada Flintridge, according to Christy Scott, spokeswoman for the water agency.

A public hearing and possible vote on the proposed increases will be held Aug. 27, according to the current timeline, Scott added. If approved, customers could see their average combined monthly bills increase by about $7.

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According to La Crescenta resident Marilyn Tyler, the original notice sent out by the water district implied that only property owners could formally protest the proposed rate hikes.

“[Is the statement] an attempt to discourage renters from writing letters of protest, since it is renters struggling with high rents and other expenses who would be most likely to protest an increase in water and sewer rates?” Tyler wrote in one of two letters she sent to the district’s board members.

Previous notices, which are required by Proposition 218, clearly stated that all of the district’s customers could submit a written protest of the proposed changes, Tyler wrote, adding that the same wording was used between at least 2014 and 2018.

Tyler also wrote that the new notice omitted instructions for protest letters to include the sender’s address and signature, leading to the invalidation of some letters.

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Her first letter, dated June 13, suggested her complaints could underpin a legal challenge.

Ultimately, the board agreed with Tyler out of an abundance of caution, Scott said.

“They wanted residents to understand that we didn’t do it to be confusing,” Scott said, referring to the change in the notice’s wording.

“We were actually trying to enhance our Prop. 218 notice and provide more information,” she added. “It was the fanciest Prop. 218 notice that we ever sent out.”

Under the proposed rates, monthly water bills would increase by an average of $5.32 and monthly sewer service bills would increase by an average of $1.66, according to the water district’s original notice.

Last year, water rates increased by 5.5%. They have risen annually for the past 10 years.

Sewer rates reflect what the district charges customers to collect wastewater and transport it to a treatment center. Those rates last increased four years ago.

Driving up costs is a decreased availability of local groundwater sources, Scott said when the rate increases were initially proposed.

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As a result, the district has been purchasing more water from Northern California and the Colorado River, which travels hundreds of miles through aqueducts and costs more than tapping into closer wells.

“I think every agency that pumps groundwater is having this problem because [of the] historic drought,” that spanned 2011 to 2017, Scott said.

While the past year saw record rainfall across the state, Scott said it will take at least 18 months before that water is available to pump locally.

Capital improvements, such as reservoir and well maintenance, were also cited as a major factor driving up the budget in the water agency’s original notice.

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