Water rate increase in the works

Officials today are scheduled to discuss raising water rates to make up for lost revenue, even as some have expressed concern that the move could discourage customers from continuing to conserve.

Glendale Water & Power officials last month said compliance with mandatory water conservation measures citywide had resulted in an 18% drop in water usage, but at the same time, managers say the cutbacks have dealt a $6-million blow to the utility's bottom line.

The utility has also grappled with a spike in the cost of imported water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The City Council and Glendale Water & Power Commission will hold a special joint meeting this afternoon to discuss a proposed rate increase to help soften the blow of lost revenue.

The proposal could find a critical audience.

"For a municipal utility to ask for voluntary and then mandatory compliance with a conservation measure, and then ask the public to pick up the inevitable downstream costs of such a measure, is not something I am prepared to pass through to our residents in this economy," Councilman John Drayman said.

While Assistant General Manager Peter Kavounas had initially forecasted an increase as high as 10%, the proposed net rate increase is now 3.8%. For the average residential customer, that would translate into $2.35 more per month, he said.

"We have tried really hard to contain expenses," he said. "We are coming forward with a proposal that's lower than was said before."

When the potential rate increase was floated last month, Glendale Water & Power commissioners said the higher rates could send the wrong message to customers who've been cutting back on their water use.

"I know there are fixed costs to operating the system, but I'd like to get a clearer picture as to why there would be a need for any additional rate increases," Mayor Ara Najarian said Monday.

Councilwoman Laura Friedman said the proposed increase was somewhat inevitable as the utility continues to grapple with the increased cost of water during a statewide shortage.

"The supplier is raising their rates very substantially, so we really have no choice," said Friedman, who serves as the city's representative on Metropolitan's board of directors. "We can't get to a point where we are selling the water for less than we are buying it for."

Metropolitan officials recently approved a 15% rate increase over the next two years, and that's on top of a 20% increase approved last year.

The proposed increase comes about one year after the City Council voted to restrict outdoor irrigation to three days a week.

Officials have lauded residents for adhering to the conservation measures, which kept Glendale from incurring heavy financial penalties for going over its allotment. The utility imports almost half of its water supply.

Kavounas said that while water bills would jump from last year's lows, they would remain below what they were before mandatory conservation efforts.

And even if the higher rates are approved, customers wouldn't notice any changes for at least a few months.

If a majority of City Council members indicate they will support the proposed increase, Kavounas said the utility will send out a 45-day notification to the public. The City Council would then vote on the rate increase.

The City Council and Glendale Water & Power Commission will meet at 2 p.m. in City Council Chambers, 613 E. Broadway.

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