Study to reexamine water rates

The City Council is looking to revamp water rates, launching a study two months after instituting a controversial 3.8% rate hike.

On Tuesday, the council voted to hire Temecula-based consulting firm Willdan Financial Services to work with Glendale Water & Power to design a new rate structure.

During the months-long debate on the increase approved in November, residents pointed out that they were conserving water and yet were met with an increase that would bump up the average water bill by more than $4.

Residents also questioned an annual transfer of $4 million from Glendale Water & Power to the city's General Fund, arguing that the utility might not need to raise rates if it kept more of its revenue. City officials have argued that the annual transfer is a vital funding source for public services, such as libraries, police and fire departments.

Meanwhile, Glendale Water & Power General Manager Glenn Steiger said his agency is paying more to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for imported water, and that he expects rate increases to continue.

Steiger said Wednesday the study will seek creative ways to balance the competing interests.

"In general, we want to start looking at rates that encourage and incent people to conserve water," Steiger said.

The city is also looking to address the concerns of large water users that they will end up bearing more of the financial burden, as well as to "decouple" the utility's revenue from the volume of water residents and businesses use, Steiger said.

"Decoupling gets us away from the issue of people conserving, but still being asked for rate increases," Steiger said. "The bottom line is we're looking to help our customers conserve more, with the ability to save money when they do so, and at the same time allow the utility to operate in an efficient manner."

City Atty. Scott Howard said Wednesday his office is looking into concerns regarding the annual utility money transfer and will present his findings Feb. 8.

On Tuesday, the council voted 4-0 to approve the $49,000-contract with Willdan. Councilman Frank Quintero was absent.

Steiger told the council the study will also include input from water users.

Councilman John Drayman, who along with Quintero voted against the recent increase, said the council was united in seeking "a more equitable way to create a rate structure for our citizens."

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