At its May 9 meeting, the Rohnert Park City Council initiated the process to consider adjustments to water rates. There are two reasons that the city is considering adjustments.
First, while the amount of water residents used and their bills dropped during the drought, the long-term costs to maintain the system that delivers the water, such as pumps and pipes, did not go down. The city is considering changing rates to cover the costs of preserving and maintaining its 50 –year- old system.
Current rates cover the purchase of water from the Sonoma County Water Agency, as well as operations and maintenance costs of the city system, repayments of debt used to finance and build the system, and maintain prudent reserves. However, even after cost-cutting, the system needs $2 million a year for major capital repairs and preservation projects. Current rates are providing about $300,000 per year toward these costs, which is insufficient to meet the capital needs of the water system. Also, the longer the city waits to make these repairs, the more the costs will increase. To cover these capital costs, the city is considering phasing in a capital preservation charge over six years, including a 6.4% increase in the first year.
Councilmember Gina Belforte said, “While no one likes to raise rates, it is better to pay now to preserve our safe, reliable water system to keep costs as low as possible. We would phase in the changes so that for the average resident their cost would increase 8 cents per day. The cost of water would continue to be less than a penny per gallon, even after the increase, and Rohnert Park water rates would be among the lowest in the region.”
The second reason that the city is considering adjusting rates is to be better prepared for future droughts. The city is considering a Temporary Water Shortage Rate Surcharge that would only take effect when the city needs to mandate water reductions exceeding 10% and would be removed when water restrictions are lifted. Customers who meet goals for reducing use would have lower overall water bills than with normal usage. For example, a 10% mandated reduction in water use could result in an 8% surcharge, saving the customer money overall.
Particularly in light of the recent drought, the city recognizes that some residents question the availability of water to support the building of new homes. The city requires nearly all new development to use recycled water for common areas such as parks and landscaping strips, and to have water-efficient fixtures, including showers, sinks, toilets, and washing machines. The city also requires shut-off valves for hoses, and limits the water availability for landscaping. In addition, the city requires new development to pay a connection fee that funds water infrastructure necessary to serve growth.
Councilmember Belforte added, “The City has a reliable water supply to accommodate growth through 2040, with room to spare, ensuring water will be available to support a vibrant community. And the excellent water-saving practices of Rohnert Park residents during the drought – going above and beyond state requirements – further ensures that the City will have sufficient, clean water for decades to come.”
The city will send notices of the proposed rate adjustments to all water customers, and plans to hold a public hearing at its July 11 meeting.