Rate increase a ‘fact of life’ (November 22, 2017)

Hesperia Council votes to raise water, sewer fees

HESPERIA — The City Council here concluded that nobody on the dais wanted to raise water and sewer fees, but it was a fact of life for operating the city.

Citing an annual subsidy of $500,000 from the city’s general fund to the Hesperia Water District for the last 20 years, the Council voted 5-0 Tuesday night to raise fees incrementally over the next five years beginning Jan. 1.

During the final public hearing, the Council agreed to raise rates in order to pay for water rights, the maintenance of an aging water system, increases by the Victor Valley Water Reclamation Authority and other services.

The increase of about 9 percent each year through 2021 will keep money in the city’s general fund, which may be used for roads, public safety and other services, said Mayor Paul Russ via an online telecommunications application.

Russ is currently staying in Louisiana in hopes of obtaining a kidney and liver transplant through Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans.

When you figure it out, it’s more like 10.77 percent, Councilman Larry Bird told the audience. So in the end, it’s more like 53 percent after five years.

For the average residential water user, the rate increase equates to a jump of about $2.89 per month for the first year, with the rate still remaining the lowest in the area, according to Hesperia spokeswoman Rachel Molina.

The monthly increase during year two would be $3.60, year three $3.93, year four $4.34 and year five $6.11, she said.

During public comment, several residents opposed the rate hike, with many saying the increase would place an undue burden on water customers, especially seniors who are on a fixed income.

Others said the increase was an unequal application of the new rates, with the heaviest burden of the increase placed on customers with smaller homes and meters.

One resident asked the city to conduct an internal audit to discover why they are paying $6 million for administration and customer service.

Another claimed the Council appeared to unanimously approve the rate hike in September before a Prop. 218 hearing notice process went into effect.

But Hesperia Attorney Eric Dunn remarked that city staff prepared and mailed out a Proposition 218 hearing notice to Hesperia Water District as required by law, with water customers having 45 days to protest the rate hike.

He also refuted a claim by one resident that an additional $100,000 had been included in the water report.

Staff reported that several public hearings were scheduled regarding the increase, close to 44,000 notices were mailed to customers, hearing notice information was printed in local publications and a dedicated website for the increase was created by the city.

The Council would not have adopted the rate increase if written protests were presented by a majority of customers— over 50 percent, plus one vote. Only 89 written protests were received as of Tuesday’s deadline, Dunn said.

A Victorville Water District rate study completed by NBS last year compared monthly water bills for single-family homes with a three-quarter-inch water meter in the East Valley Water District.

The rate report showed that water customers in Helendale, Hesperia and Victorville paid just under $42 a month, compared to Adelanto residents who paid just over $62 and Liberty Utilities customers in Apple Valley who paid over $73.

Despite the water increase, people in Hesperia are still paying the lowest prices for water in the area, Mayor Pro Tem Russ Blewett said.

Source: Rene Ray De La Cruz, Daily Press