OAKLAND (CBS SF) — East Bay Municipal Utility District directors voted 6-1 at a contentious three-hour meeting Tuesday to approve a water rate increase totaling nearly 20 percent for the next two years.
The board’s vote means that the water agency’s 1.4 million customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties will be hit with a 9.25 percent rate hike starting on Wednesday and another 9 percent hike next July, according to EBMUD officials.
The average single-family residential customer using 200 gallons of water a day will see their bills rise by $4.34 per month staring Wednesday and another $4.63 per month next July.
In addition, the average residential wastewater charge will increase by $0.96 per month in the first year and $1.06 in the second year.
The water agency’s board members said they understand customers’ frustration that the rates will be increasing even though they cut back their water usage but they said they need to bump the rates to pay for rising infrastructure costs, especially the cost for replacing aging water pipes.
Board President Lesa McIntosh said, “This is not fun for us but we believe this rate increase is necessary to pay for our infrastructure costs.”
McIntosh said the board faces “a conundrum” because the drought caused water sales to decrease but the agency’s infrastructure costs go up every year.
Director Doug Linney said, “We have the same infrastructure costs no matter how much water is used by our customers.”
EBMUD officials said the district also needs the money from rate increases for maintenance and upgrade costs for its reservoirs, pumping plants and water treatment plants, among other system costs.
Even before Tuesday’s vote, the water district had raised rates 98.8 percent over the past 10 years. But district officials said their customers’ actual water bills increased at the lower rate of 45 percent over the same period because they cut their water use during the drought.
EBMUD officials said their customers’ water rates will remain in the lower third of comparable northern California water agencies’ rates and the cost of the agency’s tap water will remain about a penny per gallon.
Some of the many people who spoke against the rate hikes at Tuesday’s meeting said the board should consider reducing the salaries of EBMUD employees, many of who receive total compensation of more than $200,000 a year, as a way to achieve a lower rate increase.
But Director Frank Mellon said, “Cutting salaries is insane” and said the district has to pay prevailing wages to retain good employees.
Addressing those who called for considering lowering wages, Mellon said, “Shame on you.”
Other speakers said the board should end the agency’s policy of shutting off water service to low-income people who can’t afford to pay their bills, saying the policy resulted in service being cut off to more than 9,000 households last year.
Board members said they’re sympathetic to those concerns and hope to address them in the near future.
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