Utility rates in Crescenta Valley on the rise

The Crescenta Valley Water District this week settled on a plan to raise water and sewage rates in order to pay for badly needed infrastructure improvements and to keep pace with what utility officials say is the rising cost of doing business.

The rate changes — an 8.9% increase for water and a combined 16.6% for sewer service — are slated to take effect at different stages by July 2013, with officials planning public input meetings prior to implementing each hike.

But the end result will be the same for customers: higher bills as utility officials struggle to cope with aging infrastructure and ever higher costs of imported water and sewage treatment.

Under a budget approved by the Crescenta Valley Water District on Tuesday, the utility will replace outdated meters and service vehicles at a more aggressive pace, and use the proceeds of a $1.5-million legal judgment to minimize the need to push rates even higher.

Utility officials said of the 7,000 residential meters in the district, more than 3,000 are more than 20 years old — an age when they should be changed out, according to the American Water Works Assn.

Under the new maintenance plan, 909 meters will be replaced each year for the next four years for a total cost of $635,000, or about $159,000 annually.

The district will see some increased revenues by replacing the older equipment because over time some meters stop accurately tracking water usage and property owners may not be getting billed for the full amount of water they use, said Engineer David Gould.

He expects the new meters to bring in an extra $151,000 a year.

Water board member James Bodnar pointed out that if Gould's calculations are correct, the replacement project could pay for itself in about five years.

The board of directors on Tuesday also decided to possibly split the projected sewer rate increase into two parts, with plans to hold a public hearing in early September for an 8.2% rate hike that would take effect in October. They may tack on a proposed 8.4% sewer rate increase that would be effective July 1, 2013.

Sewer rate increases are linked to an anticipated 39% increase in fees the Crescenta Valley Water District pays to the Los Angeles Sanitation Department for wastewater treatment.

Future budget projections show that the district also intends to propose an 8.9% water rate hike effective July 1, 2013.

Board members had planned to hold a hearing on both the sewer and water rate hikes, but decided to hold off on going to customers for the water-rate proposal.

“In the customer's mind, I think they're going to feel they're being hit with two increases when, in fact, the water rate increase won't happen until July 1 (2013),” said Dennis Erdman, the utility's general manager.

The $1.5-million settlement that is being used to supplement spending on maintenance stems from a lawsuit filed by the district after it had to clean up a gasoline additive that leaked from underground fuel storage tanks.

To tamp down on the affects to customers, officials reduced the capital improvement component of the budget by $100,000, which will cut down on the number of pipelines up for replacement.

The new budget also calls for replacing four aging utility trucks next fiscal year.

District officials had budgeted to replace only one vehicle, but that truck is a 2003 model and is heavily used, Gould said.

“It's our workhorse,” he said after the meeting. “It's used on 90% of our maintenance jobs.”

The other trucks slated for replacement date back to the mid- to late-1990s.

The district has 14 utility trucks in its fleet, and plans to replace one or two of them annually over the next five years, Gould said.

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