Seeking transparency and, at the same time, hoping to assure customers that water rates reflect the accurate cost of providing water, local water officials this week adopted a rate-setting process that includes a voice for the “little guy.”
On Nov. 6, the SCV Water Agency’s board of directors fulfilled an obligation spelled out in the Senate bill that created the agency — making room in its rate-setting process for an independent ratepayer advocate by the end of 2018.
Having such an advocate on hand to assess, among other considerations, the fairness of proposed water rates, was one of the cornerstones of SB 634, which created the SCV Water Agency in January.
“By integrating water services under one umbrella in the Santa Clarita Valley, we added
efficiencies and cost savings in many areas,” SCV Water board President Bill Cooper said Thursday.
“Now the board and public will benefit from an additional level of review of rate and fee
proposals and be provided further confidence in ratemaking decisions,” he said.
For Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, author of SB 634, such an advocate would serve as the watchdog for the “little guy” looking out for unfair rate increases.
Quoted in a news release issued Thursday by SCV Water about the advocate decision, Wilk said: “It was clear to me that ratepayers wanted to have a representative who would stand up for them.
“It was something I felt really strongly about and wanted to ensure was in the bill,” he said.
“Having an independent ratepayer advocate will represent a voice for the little guy.”
When board members were hammering out the role of ratepayer advocate in October, Dan Mortensen, president of the agency’s Finance and Administration Committee, questioned the need for one on a fundamental level.
“Each one of us (board member) was elected by ratepayers, so each of us should be a ratepayer advocate,” he said in October. “We are the voice of the ratepayer.”
The board will hire a qualified firm or individual to be the independent ratepayer advocate.
During the rate design process, the ratepayer advocate is expected to:
- Provide input, working with the Finance and Administration Committee and with staff during the rate and fee setting processes, analyzing underlying assumptions.
- Prepare a report, including an opinion, on the final draft rate, and comparing it to best practices within the industry and at similar agencies.
- Communicate with customers, using plain language and through frequently asked questions found on a website containing relevant information.
- Be available to the public, attending all public meetings on rate changes and being there to answer ratepayer questions by phone or email.
Water officials noted in their news release that rates for each retail service division may vary “based on a variety of factors.”
Rates are expected to be “fair and equitable” they noted, while generating a “stable revenue stream sufficient to meet the financial requirements and goals of the agency.”
Officials also promised to make rates easy for customers to understand and easy for the agency to administer.
The next step in bringing the ratepayer advocate on board is for the board to solicit ratepayer advocate services to find the right person for the job.