A golf course manager, several avocado growers and a number of Goleta residents showed up to the Goleta Union School District Office Wednesday evening to voice their concerns over proposed water rate increases.
The Goleta Water District, which has spent its reserve funds and now faces a financial crisis, hired Camp Dresser McKee Inc., a private consulting firm, to find a solution to the local water problem. The resulting proposal, which the Water District Board of Directors aims to impose, would mean a 43 percent increase in the price of water through decreasing increments over the next five years.
Bill Rosen, President of the GWD Board of Directors, said that two factors — diminished reserves and a lack of rate increases over the past several years — led to the proposed increases.
“We are running on no reserves so we are on very thin ice,” Rosen said. “For five years no one raised water rates around here. Had they increased the rates in an orderly fashion then we would not be looking at a 16 percent rate increase next year.”
The 16 percent increase would be the first of five and would be implemented in Isla Vista as well as Goleta. Goleta resident Richard Schneider said that the heightened increases during the first few years will be hard on the customers.
“The problem with a front-loaded system is that, out of 43 percent [increase], the bulk comes out in the first few years,” Schneider said. “They are stealing it out of my pocket.”
Every person who spoke on Wednesday night expressed varying levels of discontent with the rate increases.
GWD customer Cathy Schmitt said low-income housing development residents would be hit especially hard.
“It is a low-income place; you have to be poor to qualify to live there,” Schmitt said. “If they jack up the rates the owners will just pass on the cost to the tenants and these people can’t even keep their houses.”
Angela Rockwell, a customer who owns a plot of avocado trees in the area, said she is rethinking her decision to live in the area given the new suggested rates.
“This proposed increase hits people on many levels,” Rockwell said. “As some of these people have said here tonight, they will not be working to pay off the mortgage anymore; they will be working to pay off the water bill. By 2015, 15 to 18 percent of my income will go to paying for water alone, and that is ridiculous.”
Most people were upset that water prices would go up at the same time the cost of living would also increase. Schmitt said she is concerned that the proposed increase neglected to take into account the effect of inflation or consumer price indexes.
“At the end of the day, this will decrease recreational activities like sports for kids and increase costs to fixed or low income people,” Schmitt said. “They are losing their cars and their water heaters to pay the bills and this makes matters worse.”
Despite this, Rosen said the rate increases need to happen for the GWD to operate.
“Very few people are here to support the rate increases,” Rosen said. “The plan is to try and develop our reserves over the next five years with these increases and we need to do that.”