Give input for utility rates by Feb. 22

By: Carol Feineman Editor News Messenger
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With city e-mails now asking residents for feedback regarding utility rates, the buzz around town is that water/wastewater/garbage bills are going up. But “that’s not the intention,” according to city of Lincoln financial analyst Steve Ambrose. “The utility user rate study is to look at current conditions and, based on water consumption by residents, deliver equitable rates for the residents,” Ambrose said Friday. “Certainly, some bills might go up for some, some bills might go down for others while some might stay the same.” Lincoln’s last utility-user rate studies for water and wastewater was in 2006 and for solid waste in 2007. “In order to determine appropriate rates, the city hires a consultant to look at three years of household consumption, typically every five-year period,” Ambrose said. “Most agencies, like a water agency such as PCWA, do a rate study.” The city, through e-mail blasts, started asking residents for their input on Jan. 18. As of last Friday, Ambrose said, 40 residents had responded. “By far, the majority of comments are about the water base rate amount, whether it should be 10,000 gallons, less or more,” Ambrose said. That 10,000-gallon figure, the minimum monthly water rate since May 1, 2006, is billed at $22.90. As shown on Lincoln’s utility bills, fees jump sometimes dramatically when individual residences and businesses increase their usage amount. If a household or business uses 14,000 gallons, for example, an extra $14.12 is added to the water bill to bring it to $37.02. The sewer fee ($32.08) and solid waste fee ($19.98) are also added to the utility bill. Businesses have a different rate schedule for solid waste, according to Ambrose. “Over the last number of years, we’ve heard from different residents on how they felt, that maybe there’s a better structure,” Ambrose said. “Some comments we heard is we should have a base rate to cover fixed costs at perhaps 3,000 gallons.” I try hard to conserve water. But the more I worked on this column, the more that 3,000 gallon figure struck me as unrealistic for Lincoln households. My household uses water sparingly. We don’t take long showers. And I barely water my lawn. And yet, when half my household was away in September and my sprinkler system was off, my water usage hit the 11,000 gallon level. So I doubt that most families, small or large, could keep to 3,000 gallons a month. Most households need more than that amount. For comparison purposes, I asked Brian Martin, Placer County Water Agency’s director of technical services, how adequate a monthly 3,000 gallon figure would be for a household. “Indoor use is typically water use for laundry, restroom purposes at 70 to 80 gallons per person per day, which is the industry standard,” Martin said. That estimate doesn’t include outside irrigation use (lawns and washing cars), which Martin says is larger. If 70 gallons were used per day during a 30-day month, that would be 2,100 gallons per person or 4,200 gallons for a couple. “Throughout the year, our average per household is 500 gallons per day,” Martin added. Using Winter’s household figure, that equates to 15,000 gallons of water per month. The city of Lincoln doesn’t know what the average household needs, according to Ambrose. “That’s why we want the consultant to study the residents’ historical consumption that we can base future rates on,” Ambrose said. “We don’t know what the consumption is by residents. The rate study will be able to show what the average consumption is for residents and businesses.” The city is asking residents to e-mail comments and suggestions regarding “an equitable rate structure” by 7 p.m. Feb. 22 to or mail to 2012 Utility Rates, City of Lincoln, 600 Sixth St., Lincoln, CA 95648. “Hopefully, we can discuss the information we receive from residents with the consultant about potential implementation,” Ambrose said. “We’re trying to find out what the concerns are of residents so we can address them.” Public hearings on proposed utility rates “as it moves forward” will be conducted at City Council meetings, according to Ambrose. The last time water rates were changed was in 2006, Ambrose said. “It was a 78 percent increase and it was a major issue in 2006,” Ambrose said. “We want to avoid significant increases like that. The city’s costs in 2006 were rising much faster than our rates compensated for.” Ambrose stressed that the city “doesn’t make a profit on the rates.” “The whole intent is to cover costs for services provided and for adequate reserves for maintenance, replacement and emergencies,” Ambrose said. “Right now, water operations were starting to use some of our reserves and the other two funds’ expenses and revenue are projected to be equal. We have adequate reserves but we need to do an adjustment or correction so we don’t get into a significant increase like we did in 2006.”