Water Crew In Street

A Water Department crew cuts into a street to get to pipes needing replacement.

Folks in Long Beach may soon see a 12% hike on their water bills.

The Long Beach Water Commission will weigh whether to approve the increase, which would go into effect Oct. 1, at its Thursday, June 13, meeting.

The hike would increase the average single family residence’s monthly bill by about $5.46.

Chris Garner, the Water Department’s general manager, said Monday that the higher rate will offset increases in supply costs. The department is also looking to invest more in local infrastructure that could lower costs in the long-term, Garner said.

“Our costs keep increasing,” he added, “but we haven’t had an increase to reflect our rising cost in a couple years.”

The cost of imported water has grown between 3% and 5% each year, Garner said, and the cost of pumping locally has risen 8%.

Water rates in Long Beach have fluctuated over the past couple of years, largely due to a lawsuit that Long Beach ultimately settled over its historic practice of transferring surplus Water Department revenues to the general fund. The lawsuit’s plaintiffs argued the process amounted to double taxation that voters had not approved.

The Water Commission approved a 4% rate hike in June 2017, but the panel decided just five months later to lower those rates by 4.2% because of the lawsuit settlement.

Then, last summer, Long Beach voters approved Measure M, which allowed the city to restore its method of directing surplus revenues back to the general fund. The Water Commission quickly followed that vote with a 7.2% rate hike, which Garner said at the time was a return to where the rate stood prior to the lawsuit settlement.

Garner said the proposed 12% hike would also help contribute to a $25 million investment, over three-to-four years, in the local pumping system. That would make Long Beach less reliant on imported water, he said, and lower the rates of pumping locally in the long-term.

“That’s a very high-cost initial investment in our wells,” Garner said, “but it would pay off, certainly, over time.”

If the commission does not approve the increase, he said, the department would have to defer those investments and draw from its current fund to continue operating.

The rate issue is part of approval of the fiscal 2019-2020 Water Department budget. Rates for sewer service are projected to be the same as last year.

The meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, June 13, at the Long Beach Water Department Administration Building, 1800 E. Wardlow Road. It is open to the public. For more information, including the budget presentation, go to lbwater.org.

NOTE: Grunion Executive Editor Harry Saltzgaver is vice president of the Water Commission.

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