No one ever wants to hear the words “higher rates,” yet the South Pasadena City Council will consider imposing them on water and sewer services after looking at detailed report this week.

Paying for the potential increase will be property and business owners as the City of South Pasadena makes infrastructure improvements to its water system.

South Pasadena Mayor Michael Cacciotti knows it can be a strain on pocketbooks whenever utility hikes come into play, but without them, he said, the city will fall further behind in fending off additional deterioration of an aging infrastructure.

“It’s the only way we can keep up when it comes to paying attention to our infrastructure needs,” said Cacciotti.

Major upgrades to the city’s water system began in 2006 with the rehabilitation of Grand Reservoir, followed by that of Wilson Reservoir. Garfield Reservoir, at a cost of roughly $20 million, is within two months of completion. Initial environmental work is currently being conducted on Graves Reservoir, which supplies water from San Marino. An overhaul of that site is scheduled next. “There are still tens of millions of dollars in water system and sewer improvements we need to make,” said Cacciotti. “There were years of negligence regarding our water system.” 

He says the City is proposing to increase the water and sewer rates to generate sufficient revenue to ensure reliable water and sewer services. Other major factors contributing to the proposed increase include the need to purchase supplemental water when reservoirs are under construction, operational cost hikes, and abiding by increasingly stringent state and federal water quality regulations.

Interim city manager Elaine Aguilar said the report and analysis presented to the Council fully examines the proposed new rates. “If the Council is comfortable with the rate study, it authorizes a public notice to be mailed to property owners in the city, notifying them of what’s called a protest process, meaning that if someone is not in favor of the water rate increase, they need to send a letter, by a certain deadline, to City Hall, that says they are opposed,” said Aguilar.

During a future Council meeting, city staff will count the protests. “If an adequate number is not received, the City Council can proceed with implementing new water rates. It’s a multiple step process. I encourage residents to participate in the process.”

Aguilar said educational forums, describing the new rates, would be scheduled if the council approves the hike. “We want people to come by to learn more about their water and sewer system,” she said. “We’ll schedule some community workshops at convenient times for people to attend.”

The comprehensive outreach will include presentations by city commissions, local organizations and community groups, and will also involve water facility tours.

If the new rates to go into effect, the interim city manager doesn’t anticipate it to happen until January 2018 at the earliest. “The cost of supplies and personnel go up along with an aggressive capital improvement campaign to catch up on deferred maintenance,” she said. “Old systems like South Pasadena’s deteriorate and it’s time to start replacing some of the costliest components. The water utility is operated like a separate business. All its revenues and expenditures stay in a separate account. The rates are set so the water utility can pay for itself.”

Although the City is only required to mail notices to property owners, Aguilar said it intends to notify all utility customers as well to seek their input.

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