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Santa Maria residents potentially facing another increase in water and sewer rates

Water Faucet
Water flows out of a faucet at a Santa Maria business. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

SANTA MARIA, Calif. – Santa Maria residents and business owners may soon be facing another round of water and sewer rate increases.

Santa Maria City Council is set to discuss rate proposals at a meeting scheduled for Oct. 17.

"On the water side, we are looking at rate increases," said Shad Springer, Santa Maria Utilities Director. "We have some cost drivers, the same inflationary factors that everyone is dealing with at home, we're also dealing with here. We have an increase in PG&E costs. We have an increase in fuel costs. Chemical costs have increased significantly as well, so those cost drivers drive the rates as well. On the wastewater side, we also have received notice from the Regional Board about new discharge requirements that the city will be required to have, which will drive the project, so the capital costs associated with that are also driving rates on the wastewater side." 

The proposed rate increases are for a four-year period and vary according to several different factors.

"The way rates are set up in California, it depends on the costs associated with the type of customer, the class of customer, for example, whether it's residential, commercial, or industrial, indicate where those rates have to be adjusted," said Springer. "In essence, the cost associated with providing the service to that customer is the rate that customer is required to pay."

Last month, Santa Maria water and sewer customers received a message in their monthly billing notifying them of the potential rate increases.

"I am against the rate increase on something as important as our water," said Santa Maria resident Joann Green. That is something that we need is our utilities and so when the water bill continuously goes up, it's just making it hard on a lot of families."

Green added her water bill has nearly doubled over an unspecified period of time, and is frustrated it has consistently risen over the past few years.

"My water bill has been just increasing," said Green. "I can remember it was like $107 and now my water bill is running like $200 a month," said Green. "To me it's way too high for a single family home. This is something that we cannot live without and I think when it's something that we cannot live without, there ought to be a way that it can stop continually increasing."

For residents and business owners like Green who wish to express their concerns over water and sewer rates, the city is hosting a public workshop on Wednesday, Sept. 27 at 6 p.m. at the Santa Maria Public Library in Shepard Hall.

"We are seeking input from the public on what they think about our Prop 218 notice," said Springer. "We are holding this meeting tomorrow evening as an opportunity for us to hear from them, questions that we get there, information passed on will also become part of the staff report that we take to City Council on October 17th, so we are looking forward to public participation, and this meeting was also sent out to all of the customers that the city has in their August bills." 

Santa Maria customers faced a rate increase this past January, the last of a four-year increase that was voted on by City Council five years ago.

"Staff and the city have worked hard to keep the requested rates down where we can," said Springer. "In fact, during the last year-and-a-half, refinanced the water bonds with a significant rate reduction, which resulted in about a million dollar a year reduction in cost to the water fund, however, the cost of these other infiltratory factors are outweighing that, so there is a recommendation by staff for a rate increase."

To learn more about the proposed Santa Maria water and sewer rate increases, click here.

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