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Council wary of utility hike

Increase of about $2.35 a month could discourage consumers from trying to save water, officials say.

June 30, 2010|By Melanie Hicken

CITY HALL— Glendale Water & Power officials faced a skeptical audience Tuesday as they presented the City Council with a proposed water rate increase aimed at recouping lost revenue.

Utility officials have proposed a 3.8% net rate increase that would translate into about $2.35 more per month. The utility's budget has been pared to the "barebones," and the increase is needed to maintain financial stability, they said.

The proposal comes a year after the City Council voted to restrict outdoor watering to three days per week, which led to an 18% drop in water and a $6 million loss in revenue.

The utility has also grappled with price spikes from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supplied about 56% of the city's water supply this year.

"That's been an ongoing [price] increase and it will continue in the long term," General Manager Glenn Steiger said.

But on Tuesday, some council members said it would send the wrong message to consumers.

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"The more efficiently our rate payers run their households with regards to water use and conservation, do we anticipate larger and larger taxes?" Councilman John Drayman said at a special joint meeting of the City Council and Glendale Water & Power Commission meeting.

The council did not vote on the proposed increase, which will return to the dais for approval after a required 45-day notification period of all utility customers.

Councilman Frank Quintero said the increase was "counterintuitive" and could discourage future conservation.

But officials said that without the mandatory conservation, the utility would have incurred higher water costs and penalties from Metropolitan, which also would have resulted in a rate increase.

"We'd be here no matter what," said Assistant General Manager Peter Kavounas.

Glendale Water & Power Commissioner Zanku Armenian said the proposed increase would be "penalizing people in an upside-down way of going beyond our expectations in conserving."

He urged the council to wait for the development of a new multi-tier rate system that encourages conservation by charging higher rates to customers who use more water. That system, which has been adopted in other cities, is expected to be presented to the City Council next year.

While Burbank and Pasadena recently approved rate increases of 13.5% and 5.1%, respectively, average water bills there would remain lower than in Glendale, according to a report from Glendale Water & Power. Average water bills are higher in the nearby Crescenta Valley Water District and Los Angeles.

Glendale resident Bob Getz said the proposed increase was coming at a bad time for other reasons, most notably the recession.

"People are having a hard time paying their utility bills," he said. "There are real problems out there and this additional rate increase is only going to exacerbate those problems."

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