Community

Citrus Heights Water District passes new fee increase, despite opposition

Citrus Heights Water District
Citrus Heights Water District directors, Ray Riehle and Caryl Sheehan, left, listen to a staff member during a Dec. 5, 2018, hearing. // CHWD.

Updated Dec. 7, 12:38 p.m.–
Sentinel staff report– Following a public hearing Wednesday night attended by about 15 residents, Citrus Heights Water District directors voted 3-0 to support a staff recommendation to increase service fees and water usage charges.

Bi-monthly, fixed service charge fees are now set to rise about $4 for a typical 1-inch residential meter in 2019, with water usage charges rising about four cents to $1.06 per unit. That will bring fixed charges up to $78.18, with additional charges based on actual water use. In 2015, residents with a typical 1-inch meter paid $56.13 in fixed service fees and 77 cents per unit of water, with a unit of water roughly equaling 748 gallons.

The Dec. 5 public hearing was held at a community room at Rusch Park, where officials heard from a half-dozen ratepayers during the hearing, in addition to receiving a total of 16 letters of protest that were submitted in writing prior to the meeting.

Opponents argued that repeated increases in their water bills were creating hardships for both families and those on fixed incomes, while district officials said the increases in both service fees and water consumption rates were necessary to avoid debt-financing and provide for replacement of aging water mains and meters, as well as expand the district’s groundwater well systems.

“The rate increases have continued year after year,” said resident Rob Hamilton, who lives on a larger property and told the board he tries to be self-sufficient with gardening, raising livestock, and growing fruit trees. His comments were echoed by another resident who also questioned the repeated increases, which the district has voted to raise each year since 2012.

One resident, Kathy Morris, spoke in support of the water district, saying she trusted officials to make the right decision and told directors at the hearing that she “appreciate[d] the fact that you are planning ahead.” Water district officials had visited Morris’ neighborhood association, among others, last month to present information about the rate increase — noting rising wholesale water costs from the San Juan Water District, which are projected to rise by 9 percent next year, another 9 percent in 2020.

Responding to a question about whether the fee increases would continue year after year, Director Ray Riehle noted the three-member board of directors will have a new member next year and said “one board can’t tell the next board what to do.”

At the district’s next meeting, David Wheaton, former general services director for the City of Citrus Heights, will be taking the seat of retiring director Allen Dains. Both Riehle and Wheaton won their seats by default last month after no one else filed to run for their seats in the November election.

Directors Riehle, Dains, and Caryl Sheehan, all voted in support of the fee and rate increase. The new charges become effective next year and will affect about two-thirds of Citrus Heights residents, as some Citrus Heights residents are served by neighboring water districts.

Want to share your thoughts on the Water District’s decision? Click here to submit a letter to the editor.