Sewer and water bills costs were raised by an overall average of 6.7% last week, amounting to increase an average of $10.73 per bimonthly billing period for Pleasanton residents and businesses.
The increase was approved earlier this month in a 5-0 vote by the City Council on the recommendation of Emily Wagner, retired finance director who stayed on to handle revisions to the city's water policies. She said the higher rates are needed to offset water and sewer costs not fully covered by ratepayers.
In Pleasanton, the water and sewer operation is an "Enterprise Fund," meaning that the funds are 100% fee-based. Costs should not be covered by the city's General Fund or city taxpayers.
Yet a study showed that during the past five years, the city was undercharging water customers, capturing only 87% of the costs associated with purchasing water from the Zone 7 Water Agency, which provides drinking water to the city.
"While the city has been able to absorb these increases, by not passing through 100% of the Zone 7 rate, this is now placing a significant strain on the city's water enterprise, which over the years has not been, nor should be, reliant on the General Fund to operate," Wagner said.
Also, due to the ongoing drought, state mandates to reduce potable water consumption by 20% per capita over the next five years and the need to replace and repair aging infrastructure, rates needed to be raised.
With the new rates, residential water users will see an average increase of $10.73 per bimonthly billing period. Seniors will continue to receive a 20%, but now only if their water consumption does not exceed 30Ccf in a bimonthly billing period, down from the current 40Ccf level.
Even with the increases, Pleasanton will continue to have the lowest combined water and sewer rates in the Bay Area. For customers using 20Ccf of water during a typical bimonthly billing period, Pleasanton users will now pay $65.62, compared to $81.92 in Livermore and $97.94 in Dublin.
For those using 40Ccf, considered moderate consumption, Pleasanton ratepayers will pay $120.78, while Livermore customers pay $160.22 and Dublin $170.36.
For high users at 60Ccf, Pleasanton ratepayers will pay $180.43, with Livermore at $265.90 and Dublin at $247.96.
The national average consumption is 23Ccf. A single Ccf of water equates to 748 gallons.
In their bimonthly sewer bills, which come with the water bills, Pleasanton customers will pay $77.28, compared to $86.76 in Livermore and a lower rate of $63.73 in Dublin.
Staffing, chemicals and electrical costs are higher than Dublin's due to charges associated with pumping Pleasanton sewerage to the Dublin San Ramon Services District treatment plant on Johnson Drive next to I-680.
Although the proposed 6.7% rate increase will help Pleasanton achieve a 100% pass-through to cover its operating costs, council members recommended doing more to encourage greater conservation. That included making the discount for seniors effective only if they use no more than 30Ccf in a billing period.
Along with higher water and sewer rates, those who live in Ruby Hill will see a higher increase in their sewer fees, moving from $4.32 to $12.60. This administrative fee is charged to Ruby Hill customers to pay for the city of Pleasanton to maintain the sewer system, which pipes the sewage to Livermore for treatment.
Thursday's rate increases may not be the last. The city has allowed annual cost of living (CPI) adjustments since 2010. The need for them is reviewed by staff annually prior to implementation. The purpose is to make a rate "change" in the first year of the five year cycle, and then follow up with rate "adjustments" each following year tied to the CPI. This avoids large abrupt increases and smooths any potential future increases over time in smaller increments.
The increased based on the CPI as the start of this new five-year rate structure is estimated to be 2.5% on Jan. 1.
At last week's meeting, the council agreed to consider a drought surcharge rate if it becomes necessary.
The drought rates are now a part of the Master Fee schedule but nothing will be implemented unless and until the council needs to take further action if the determination is made that additional revenue will be needed to replenish lost revenue during the drought.
At this time, the council determined, it is not necessary to levy the additional drought surcharge.