Independence residents take water-rate increase in stride

By Deb Murphy

A couple dozen residents of Independence got the “we’re gonna raise your water rates” presentation Wednesday evening and took the information fairly well, even opting to bite the bullet and take the biggest hit in October of this year ending up with a doubled rate by 2024.

The results of a rate study, conducted by Raftelis Financial, went before the Board of Supervisors earlier this year. This week, the results were discussed in workshops in Independence and Lone Pine.

The process started a year-and-a-half ago, after a main water line died and Public Works had to scramble to keep water flowing in Independence. Since the contract with systems manager Wilder-Barton was coming to an end, the decision was made to have Inyo County take back management of the systems in Independence, Laws and Lone Pine.

There are cost savings in having the County take over management. No new Public Works employees are needed, just some training of existing workers for water operator certification. The increased rates will go toward on-going upgrades and maintenance on systems with 100-year old histories. The show-and-tell at the presentation was a table full of rusty, old pipes with gaping holes. “That’s what happens when you don’t raise rates for 15 years,” Inyo CAO Clint Quilter explained.

The County owned the systems but hadn’t taken ownership of them. Where the systems need help is from the pump to the meter,” said Public Works Deputy Director Chris Cash. That pretty much describes a water system.

Sanjay Gaur, with Raftelis Financial Consultants, explained the flat rates will be based on meter size. Each community has an allotment of free water considered mitigation in the Long Term Water Agreement between Inyo and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

The rates cover the cost of getting the water from the pump to the tap and the increase will go into capital improvement projects.

The most common meter size is ¾ inch. The current rate is $28.38 a month. By 2024, that rate will increase to $56.31. The choices are: a 30-percent increase effective October of this year with 10-percent increases every July through 2024. Option 2: a 50-percent increase in October followed by a 10-percent bump in 2021 and five-percent increases from 2022 to 2024.

Both options end at the same cost.

By a raise of hands, Indy residents opted for Option 2.

There was some lively discussion about why Indy had to swallow an additional $6.34 a month to pay off the $153,000 cost of the main line fix rather than having that cost spread over all three systems.

Discussions also focused on why the County should replace the systems’ antique meters. “There are benefits to having meters,” Cash said, like identifying leaks and tracking usage to make sure users are within their free allotments. But it was agreed the meters didn’t have to be read monthly.

Cash also stressed the increases would go into infrastructure, not new equipment.

The Independence meeting and last night’s session in Lone Pine is step one. There will be notices and public hearings at Board meetings before the rates go into effect later this year.

 

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