SCV Water to name ratepayer advocate

Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency

When local water officials went looking for the right firm to act as ratepayer advocate, they wanted someone to be the “voice of the little guy” when it comes to reviewing proposed water rate changes, and now they’ve found one.

On Tuesday, board members of the SCV Water Agency are expected to name the Santa Barbara-based consulting firm, Robert D. Niehaus Inc., as its ratepayer advocate.

The board meeting is open to the public and begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant on Bouquet Canyon Road, overlooking Central Park.

The agency’s search for the right ratepayer advocate turned up three contenders, with the other two being HF&H Consultants LLC, and Carollo Engineers. 

On its website, Robert D. Niehaus Inc. defines itself as a professional economic consulting firm, specializing in regional and resource economic analysis for public/private agencies and utilities. 

The firm set up shop in 1983 and now has 24 staffers made up of economists and market analysts.

Seeking transparency and, at the same time, hoping to assure SCV customers that water rates reflect the accurate cost of providing water, local water officials adopted a rate-setting process nine months ago 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 Senate Bill 634, which created the SCV Water Agency. 

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. 

When the agency went looking for the right advocate, it looked for experience and 

qualifications in the area of public agency rate design, budget preparation and public agency fiscal management.

According to a memo to the board from members of the agency’s Finance and Administration Committee, naming a ratepayer advocate comes just in time.

The position has to be filled by the end of this month in order to report on the updated Facility Capacity Fees that will be adopted prior to Jan. 1. 

On July 17, committee members interviewed all three ratepayer advocate candidates and selected RDN as their choice, now recommending the firm to the board. 

Fees from the respondents range from $94,915 to $113,250 for services that would include the FY 2019/20 Facility Capacity Fee Update, and the FY 2020/21 updates to the wholesale and retail rates.

Facility capacity fees are charged to developers for new water hookups.

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