Santa Maria area water customers could face 26-percent rate incr - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Santa Maria area water customers could face 26-percent rate increase

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UPDATE (8:55 p.m.) -  Golden State Water spokesman Mike Gazda said this about Tuesday night's meeting:

Roughly 40-45 residents attended tonight's meeting in Santa Maria. It was a good meeting and most noted they appreciated the information on proposed rates and the unique challenges associated with providing reliable water service in the area. Rate increases are never popular, but it was a good group that kept an open mind to learn why rate increases are needed. Also noted that the new tax law may lower the proposed rate impact, as any revenue surplus from the lower corporate tax will be passed through to customers.

ORIGINAL STORY - Golden State Water Company wants to raise its customers' water rates. 

Water customers in the Santa Maria area could see a more than 26-percent increase over three years. 

The proposal to raise water rates will affect more than 13,400 customers in the unincorporated areas of Santa Maria and another 3,000 in Los Osos. 

For customers in Santa Maria, Nipomo, Orcutt, Sisquoc, Tanglewood, Lake Marie, Cypress Ridge and some other unincorporated areas, Golden State Water is proposing a 19.15-percent increase to water rates starting next year in 2019. Those rates would then rise by 3.11 percent in 2020 and 3.89 percent in 2021, totaling more than 26 percent over the next three years.

Los Osos residents would face a 21.3-percent increase.

"We live in the desert. Water will always be expensive, but that's too much," said Mike Spears, Orcutt resident.

"Yeah, it seems a little high to me. It seems like nothing else is going up that high," said John Pope, Orcutt resident. 

Local nurseries say the price hike could affect local businesses.

"During drought years we have to supplement watering because of the rain," said Teresa Pico of Old Town Garden Center in Orcutt. "We aren't receiving the rain we need and that means we will be watering more for the nursery. It's vital to keep the plants alive in this business."

Customers in the Orcutt area are flocking to local nurseries, looking for ways to conserve water.

"I put rock and a few potted plants and succulents and drought tolerant plants," Spears said. "It'll be an investment, but in four years I'll get my money back."

Golden State Water Company says the increase will help operate, maintain and improve the water system.

In a statement, the company said, "As required by law, Golden State Water Company filed its General Rate Case in July 2017 proposing water rates to match the anticipated costs to operate, maintain and improve the local water system in 2019, 2020 and 2021. The rate proposal considers the unique challenges associated with delivering reliable, quality water in the region and investments that are needed to update aging infrastructure and prepare the system to meet future demands. 
Rates are driven by how much we invest to protect the local water system, and the General Rate Case proposes approximately $15 million for local infrastructure investments to address water supply, storage and distribution needs in the Santa Maria service area from 2019-21." 

If approved as filed, a typical customer with average usage would see a monthly bill increase between $10.45 and $67.11.

"I think that's massive. I think it's a huge amount. It will be felt for sure," Pico said. "Thank goodness for the tax cuts. Hopefully, that will balance it out."
Proposed rates will likely be adjusted to reflect any revenue surplus resulting from the new corporate tax law. There won't be a decision made this month. Instead, the proposed rate increase would start next January.  

The California Public Utilities Commission requires Golden State Water to submit a General Rate Case every three years. 

At a hearing Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Santa Maria Public Library, ratepayers could address the California Public Utilities Commission in regards to the proposed increase.

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