Glendale approves water rate hikes

The City Council on Tuesday approved four years of rate increases and restructuring that will, starting in late April, significantly change how people are charged for water.

The rate changes have been a subject of scorn from many residents and business owners, who have complained for months that they are unfair and burdensome.

Glendale Water & Power officials say they must generate more revenue in order to chip away at a $21-million deficit in the water utility's budget and to afford badly needed infrastructure upgrades.

The council approved the rate changes 3 to 2, with Councilmen Rafi Manoukian and Frank Quintero dissenting.

The rate increases will occur incrementally over the next four fiscal years. The proposal would give the city a less than 1% revenue boost the first fiscal year, 2% the next and then 4% and 5% in the next two years, said Glenn Steiger, general manager of the utility.

The average residential customer who pays $69.57 per month may see his water bill decrease by a few dollars this year, but jump by $6.24, or 8.9%, by 2015 compared to current charges. High-end users, who use more than twice as much water as the average customer and pay $173.31 per month, may see their bill decrease similarly this year, but increase $21.84, or 12.6%, by 2015.

“I think this is the best solution that we have, currently,” Councilman Ara Najarian said.

The plan is to split residential customers into multiple tiers, charging those who use large amounts of water a higher rate. It also puts more of the cost on fixed infrastructure, such as meters, rather than the commodity of water. The redesign means the utility will have more fixed revenue that won't fluctuate with conservation as greatly as it has in the past.

Commercial customers won't be tiered, but those with meters that provide water during fire emergencies to their buildings — many of Glendale's 100 biggest businesses — will be charged significantly more for those meters. Utility officials said the change should have been put in place years ago, but it was opposed by the Glendale Chamber of Commerce.

Some council members said although they approved the rate increase, they would like to set up a task force to allow the public to propose options that might be more favorable. If that group can come up with something better than the plan offered by the consultant who prepared the analysis, the City Council could review it.

“From year to year, we can reevaluate this,” said Mayor Laura Friedman.

A last-minute proposal from Manoukian to let the water utility borrow from the city's cash reserves to complete needed capital improvements and stave off the immediate need for rate increases failed to gain traction with his colleagues Tuesday night. Officials said it would only be a short-term fix, and the city will be confronting its own budget woes soon.

Since 2007, rates have increased about 38.8%, but that was after years of no change.

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