Delay on water rate increase gets commissioners bubbling

While car dealers, the Americana at Brand and other large businesses are applauding the city’s decision to delay voting on proposed water rate increases, some Glendale Water & Power commissioners this week expressed concerns about the implications.

“I’m hoping we’re not reacting to just some small interests who have put in calls to officials and are rattling cages,” said Zanku Armenian, the commission’s newly-appointed chairman, during the meeting Monday.

City Manager Scott Ochoa delayed bringing the proposed rate changes to the City Council last week for a vote because several businesses said they needed more information. The City Council is now set to vote on the package March 20.

Mike Bell, a utility consultant on the rate change, said officials and business owners have been meeting to discuss concerns, most of which center on big increases to fire meter charges.

But commissioners on Monday said those one-on-one meetings may be viewed as preferential treatment.

“I’m not comfortable with a few private owners meeting privately off the record with staff,” said Commissioner Deborah Dentler.

Facing a $13.5-million deficit on the water side of Glendale Water & Power, officials want a rate restructure to get the utility back in the black, build a healthy reserve and pay for capital improvements. A rate redesign and increase would boost revenue by 2% the first two years and then 4% and 5% in the next two years.

Each customer’s bill would be affected differently, since rates would differ depending on the type of user and how much water they consume. Some may see bills decrease slightly in the first year, while others will see rate increases.

Some of Glendale’s top 100 businesses may also see increased charges for the meters that provide water during fire emergencies to their buildings. Most large commercial customers would see an increase of between $130 and $300 per month in the first year and about $200 to $400 by the fourth in their meter charge. Others with larger meters could see $480 to $600 jumps per month over the next four years.

Since the cost of water is decreasing for commercial customers, the fire meter increases may be negligible, officials have said. But some bigger users beg to differ.

The Americana at Brand would see an almost 19% rate increase in the first year, said Rick Lemmo, an executive at Caruso Affiliated, which owns the mall. Jeanne Brewer, Acura of Glendale owner, said her business would see a 60% hike.

Lemmo called the decision to delay the City Council vote to better explain the impacts of the rate change proposal the right thing to do.

“Being business-friendly is important,” he said.

Bell assured commissioners that the meetings have been purely informational and there have been no changes to the rate restructure made “behind closed doors.”

He said the next step would be to look for ways to appease the businesses, but officials would have to weigh the impact of that on the utility’s revenue. Plus, options are limited this late in the game, he said.

Although Glendale Water & Power held several community meetings for residents to discuss the rate changes, a business meeting wasn’t held until just before the council meeting, prompting the concerns.

Business leaders said they were happy with the utility’s outreach so far. And while some business leaders are holding out for a reassessment, others said they aren’t expecting a change to come out of the meetings.

“They’re asking for changes, but there’s nothing that can be done,” said Lexus of Glendale General Manager Johnny Harrison. Bills “are going up. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it.”

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