In the last few months, Antioch residents have noticed an increase in their water bills and have begun taking to social media to complain.
According to multiple residents, they were now paying higher water bills than PG&E.
The decision to increase rates dates back to a March 2015 City Council decision (a 4-1 vote) to approve the Water and Sewer Rates and Capacity Charges Study. The complaint is that with the drought emergency now over, the two tiered quantity charge should go away and rates should be reduced–the account also has $647,000 in monies returned due to the lawsuit by Mark Jordan.
In his City Manager Weekly Update, Ron Bernal addressed the issue:
Over the past couple of weeks folks have expressed concern over their water bills and why they seem to have gone up so much. In response I’d like to clarify a couple of things:
1. The rates have increased effective July 1st as a result of Council implementing the rate increases identified in the Water and Sewer Rates and Capacity Charges Study approved in 2015. This study established rate increases for sewer and water over a five-year period. We are in the early stages of conducting a cost for services evaluation of our water rates with a presentation of the findings scheduled to come before the City Council in early 2018.
2. The City adopted two-tiered inclining block “two-tier” quantity charges for residential customers in 2015. Prior to 2015, all customers were charged a uniform quantity charge. The Boards and Councils of many municipalities seek to promote water conservation at the high end of the water use spectrum as their highest priority and use tiered quantity charges to affect water conservation. Some municipalities have uniform quantity charges which promote water conservation at the low end and middle of the water use spectrum. Pittsburg, Brentwood and EBMUD use tiered quantity charges, while currently
CCWD uses a uniform quantity charge but is considering a tiered structure.
3. The City of Antioch does not have a penalty portion in the water rate structure. While many neighboring agencies imposed a “drought charge”, the City of Antioch was able to maintain its rate structure that was approved in 2015 without any additional charges.
4. Most Antioch water customers enjoy average annual water bills that are lower than comparable service for customers at the cities of Brentwood and Pittsburg, and all the cities in the service areas of Contra Costa Water District and East Bay Municipal Utility District, as shown in the chart below.
Even with the explanation, many contend that the drought was the entire reason rates were increased because of the 20% water conservation goal which reduced the city’s budget and caused the anticipated revenue to be reduced due to conservation.
Several residents say that with the drought emergency declared over that Antioch should now be able to recoup the 20% they were once losing and should not continue to charge residents in a way that deters them from using water.
Bernal still maintains the rates are not tied to the drought.
Going back to the March 24, 2015 meeting (2hr 58 min mark), Ron Bernal, who was then the Public Works Director/City Engineer, told the City Council increases were needed to keep up with city costs and the drought.
“Increases are needed because of drought conditions and the ability to rely on the river water as a primary source of water for our community,” said Bernal. “There is also a need to maintain aging infrastructure.”
According to the March 24, 2015 Staff Report addressing the Drought:
The State is facing a major water crisis with water supplies in both the State and Federal reservoirs dropping to alarming levels. In response to the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency, and faced with a reduction in water allocations from the State and Federal water projects, local water agencies, including Antioch, have adopted both mandatory and voluntary Drought Management Programs.
The implementation of these programs has resulted in approximately 20% reduced water use and sales citywide. The 20% reduction in water use and sales will remain a part of our future revenue projections even in non-drought years as the State has passed into law, as part of the “2009 Water Package”, language that will require local urban water agencies to achieve and maintain a 20% water reduction by 2020.
In addition to our revenue loss due to the city’s Drought Management Program and other conservation efforts, we have experienced significant declines in revenues generated from connection fees as local housing developments have virtually stopped.
At that meeting, the council approved the rate hike after just 51 customers cast opposing votes out of 31,056 customers. For residents who use 320 gallons per day (average), they pay one set of rates while those who exceed that threshold are subject to the higher rates.
Then Antioch Mayor Wade Harper asked the question on rate increases “why now”?
The response by then City Manager Steve Duran was that they were eating into their reserves and they would be eating into the general fund and needed to support and maintain the infrastructure (3hr 40 min).
“The enterprise is losing money and if you don’t raise rates you are going to run out of money,” said Duran.
Councilwoman Monica Wilson asked what if they postponed the rate increase and what would that look like. Bernal explained if they waited just one year, Antioch residents would be looking at a 19% increase in water rates—leveling out at 8%.
“If you go out further, it gets worse,” said Bernal. “The prudent thing to do is act now and keep the rates at a steady 8% increase as opposed to waiting and having a much larger increase.”
During that meeting, several residents spoke out against the plan claiming the city was taking advantage of the drought to justify the increase in rates.
The council voted 4-1 with Wade Harper being the dissenting vote. To review the meeting, click here.