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Clovis water rates will rise for the city’s most thrifty users

Clovis public utilities director Luke Serpa talks about water rates

The Clovis City Council will meet Monday night to vote on a water rate structure that will charge more to water savers.
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The Clovis City Council will meet Monday night to vote on a water rate structure that will charge more to water savers.

Some of Clovis’ most conservation-minded water users urged the City Council Monday to abandon a new water rate system that even the council acknowledged could hamper water conservation efforts.

In the end, a reluctant City Council voted 4-0 to approve the rates anyway.

“I’m as frustrated as some of you,” Councilman Bob Whalen said in making the motion. “We hate having to make a decision like this but we have to follow the law.”

Councilwoman Lynne Ashbeck said the council isn’t taking the rate change lightly. She said the new rates are an example of “counterintuitive, terrible timing.”

Heather Ferreira and her husband Anthony continue to water their yard because they want to protect their investment and they also want their children to be able to play on the grass, despite the fines from the city of Clovis.

Many customers’ water bills will remain similar, those who use the most water will likely see lower rates and those using the least water will get billed more. The proposal has prompted hundreds of letters from residents, many of whom already have taken steps to be better water stewards.

The new rates were necessary because of a legal ruling last year that said certain tiered rate systems are illegal. The Clovis model wasn’t challenged.

We hate having to make a decision like this but we have to follow the law.

Councilman Bob Whalen

The ruling was based on Proposition 218, which says that government can only charge a fee to cover the cost of that service. Those using more water in San Juan Capistrano sued, alleging the city’s conservation efforts – charging lower water rates to those who use less – were unconstitutional. Courts sided with them.

Users paying significantly higher rates because they used more water claimed that the difference in rates was not justified by the costs to the city.

The lawsuit’s outcome led cities to examine their tiered-rate systems, Clovis among them. Clovis hired a consulting firm that suggested methods for the city to change its billing system and avoid a legal challenge.

More than a dozen speakers addressed the City Council for 90 minutes Monday, claiming the new rates were not fair to those who conserve most. Others suggested that the city have its consultant find another solution to improve the rates for those who conserve.

Still others took issue with a plan to raise rates 3 percent in the coming years, but officials said the city will only raise rates if its revenues don’t meet its costs.

Resident Ed Olff said the city should abandon tiers because the new system only hurts those who use less. He said his bill will rise 40 percent, but someone who uses nearly 50 percent more water will see their bill increase just 2 percent.

“Why do we even have to do tiers at all,” he said. “If you’re going to waste, you’re going to pay more.”

Herbert Cruz told the council that he spent $12,000 on a synthetic lawn, but will have to absorb an increase of 35 percent in his water bill.

Jeanne Lovelace, who pays the minimum rate and will see her bill rise 80 percent, called the city’s rate plans “castigation for conservation.”

The Clovis consultant’s report said the new billing system is intended to proportionately divide costs for each customer’s class based on the demand they place on the system.

Why do we even have to do tiers at all. If you’re going to waste, you’re going to pay more.

Resident Ed Olff

Water use in the city is steady for industrial, commercial and institutional users. For residential users, consumption drops in the winter and soars in the summer.

Residential demands require the city to nearly double its output in the summer months, said Luke Serpa, the city’s public utilities director.

He said Proposition 218 requires the city to charge users its delivery cost.

The new rates will increase water costs for hundreds, possibly thousands, of water users who have been doing the most to conserve.

Currently, someone who uses up to 10,000 gallons every two months pays the base rate of $16.80.

$13.02The increase a 10,000-gallon water user can expect on a bill every two months

But under the new system, the base rate is set at $21.22. In addition, all users pay 86 cents per thousand gallons up to 23,000 gallons every two months. A bill for a 10,000-gallon user will rise to $29.82, a 78 percent increase. If a drought is declared, the city’s rates rise to $1.04 per 1,000 gallons.

Residents using the average amount, about 27,000 gallons, will see little price change under normal circumstances. Under drought conditions, they will pay about 10 percent more.

Clovis will collect about the same amount of money next fiscal year under the new rate structure as it did this year, Serpa said.

Douglas Dove, who wrote the consultant’s report, said the city’s rates are “very low” in comparison with others around the state.

Perhaps the only positive news was that Clovis doesn’t plan on fining residents this year for failing to meet the state’s conservation goal. Last year, the city charged residents $25 per billing period for failing to reach the goal during the summer.

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @beebenjamin

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