Santa Clarita Valley Water customers will receive a notice in the mail next week about proposed water rate changes over the next five years.
The rate changes will bring customers in three separate divisions — Newhall, Santa Clarita and Valencia — under one rate for their water usage charge and other rates. Customers in each division currently pay different sets of rates, which were set before the three divisions — formerly independent agencies — merged in 2018.
The ratepayer advocate report concluded that the median bill would decrease by 16% for a customer in the Newhall Water Division in the first year of the rate change. In the Santa Clarita Water Division, the report estimated the decrease at 1% in the first year. Valencia Water District customers are estimated to experience a 6% increase in the first year. In subsequent years, any potential rate increases have yet to be determined.
The local water agency’s board of directors voted Tuesday night to send the required notice, which explains the rate changes and the opportunity for SCV Water ratepayers to file a written protest to the changes.
Directors Kathye Armitage, Lynne Plambeck and Beth Braunstein voiced their concerns about not allowing ratepayers to submit written protests by email.
“I just wanted to restate my disappointment that we’re not allowing written protest to be submitted by both email and regular mail,” said Armitage.
Plambeck said she’d like to see the rate change notice include a “tear-off” that rate payers could complete and send to the agency in the mail.
“It’s very extremely unlikely that the protests would be so many that the rate adjustment would not go through,” Plambeck said. “But I am really concerned that we give everyone the opportunity to have their voice heard.”
Proposition 218, a ballot measure approved by California voters in 1996, requires a majority of ratepayers submit a written protest to stop proposed rate changes.
Braunstein also supported accepting protests by email.
“If we’re not going to do that, then I would request that maybe we write it in bold that we do not accept email protest,” Braunstein said.
A draft rate change notice shared as part of the board of directors’ meeting agenda packet explains the proposed changes. The notice references a ratepayer advocate report and cost of service analysis, which informed the proposed changes.
Ichiko Kido, the ratepayer advocate who worked with agency staff, explained her report’s recommendations to the board Tuesday.
“My primary focus was always to find the lowest possible rate for the agency’s ratepayers without sacrificing the quality of services that the agency provides to its customers,” Kido said. “Unifying the rates of the three agencies that are currently completely different was challenging, but I believe the agency found the best solution for the ratepayers.”
When asked by Plambeck if a rate increase was needed, Kido cited increased expenses of 2% to 5% per year over the next five years.
“One thing that I proposed and the board members approved was (a) 0% revenue increase for the first year, because what I found was your healthy reserve level,” Kido said. “Your agency will be able to take no (revenue) increase for the first year, and then that would mitigate customers’ rate increases greatly.”
Kido told the board that the proposed annual rate increases represent a maximum amount that the board can revisit each year before determining the final increase for the following year.
“I recommended every year we revisit your financial condition and we evaluate if you really need that 6.5% increase,” Kido said.
Board President Gary Martin thanked Kido for her recommendations.
“This is what I think we all hoped for, that we would have someone of Ichiko’s status and stature to sit down and make sure that what we came up with was fair, equitable, required and detailed,” Martin said.
Customers can soon use yourscvwater.com/rateplanning to learn more about the water agency’s cost of service analysis and ratepayer advocate report. SCV Water is scheduled to hold a public hearing about the rate changes June 15, which is the deadline for submitting a written protest.
Written protests should be addressed to the attention of the Board Secretary, addressed to 27234 Bouquet Canyon Road, Santa Clarita, CA 91350, and include the ratepayer’s name, parcel number and/or service address, and signature.