The Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) board is set to decide tonight on a proposed 6 percent rate hike, a move that would be the district's increase of its water rates.
The district notified its approximately 185,000 customers last months of its plans to raise water rates. In doing so, the district has cited a number of factors, including declining revenue as a result of the success of its conservation efforts, as well as rising costs on items like electricity and health insurance for its current and retired employees.
For the district’s average user, the hike would raise the rate from a $94.44 two-month water bill to a $100 two-month bill. The district hosted a workshop on the rate hike on March 29.
“Utility increases are the norm and we’re way ahead of the curve in keeping our rate increases at a moderate level,” Cynthia Koehler, president of the MMWD board, said last month. “We have a bunch of fixed costs that don’t go down just because our customers are consuming less water, and we have to pay our bills.”
The district saw its revenue from water use go down nearly 14 percent in 2010-2011, and it’s projected to continue to slide this year.
The decline in water sales experienced over the last four years is from a combination of “more than anticipated success with our water conservation program, the slow economic recovery from the recession and summer temperatures which were substantially lower than normal,” district officials said in a staff report on the issue.
Koehler said it is important for MMWD customers to understand that while water conservation is a good thing, it negatively impacts the district’s revenue. She noted the continued suspension of the district's conservation rebate program, which allows homeowners to receive as much as $350 toward the purchase of efficient irrigation equipment. The rebate, instituted in 2007, seeks to reduce outdoor water use, which accounts for 50 percent of summer water consumption.
“The thing to compare the rate increase to is what the rate would have been if customers weren’t conserving,” she said. “Rates would have much, much higher if we had to go out and get more water. In addition, we have a staff that we have to support and it doesn’t matter have how much water you use, we still need that staff.”
Some MMWD customers said the district has had plenty of time to anticipate the continuing successful conservation efforts of its customers and budget accordingly.
The district cited a number of rising costs for the rate hike, including a 15.5 increase in electricity costs due to the rise in rates from the Marin Energy Authority, as well as a 26.6 increase in health insurance premiums for its retired employees. District officials said approximately 85 percent of the district's costs are fixed.
The water district has increased the employee contribution to retirement benefits in recent years, and has also trimmed its workforce by 10 percent and implemented a two-year pay freeze for employees.
The rate increase would go into effect May 1. The district is sending out mailers in the next few weeks to all customers notifying them of the plans to increase rates.