The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) last week released a proposed resolution for higher rates on all Hillview Water Company customers that, if approved, will raise the company’s annual revenues by 23%.
The increase will take effect after a 30-day public comment period and a vote by the five-commissioner CPUC, scheduled for Dec. 17.
In June, Hillview (HWC) asked the CPUC for rate increases on its 1,470 active connections to raise revenues by $635,296 (46%) from the previous year.
The increased dollars will help fulfill installation and operational costs with the company’s treatment plants, HWC officials said, to bring their water systems into compliance with state standards for excessive levels of arsenic and uranium, among other concerns.
Written by the CPUC’s Division of Water and Audits (Division), the proposed resolution cuts that request in half, and grants a $358,559 increase (23%).
HWC’s last general rate increase was in 2009, raising revenues by 24.8% or $283,286, the document states.
In the 22-page resolution released Nov. 13, the Division called its decisions an act of balance, attributed at least in part to concerns expressed during a public meeting Sept. 3 at Yosemite High School.
“Customers expressed concerns over the magnitude of the rate increase, the quality of the water the company is providing, and the length of time it is taking the company to install the water treatment facilities necessary to address the water quality issues,” the document reads. “In setting rates in this resolution, we have balanced the financial requirements of HWC with rate concerns of its customers.”
The resolution’s approved monthly rate increases for each meter, by diameter, are as follows:
* 3/4 inch: 1,327 connections - $32.23 to $44.79. HWC proposed $49.70.
* 1 inch: 67 connections - $51.74 to $74.64. HWC proposed $82.83.
* 1 1/2 inch: 35 connections - $100.51 to $149.29. HWC proposed $165.65.
* 2 inch: 34 connections - $159.04 to $238.86. HWC proposed $265.04.
* 3 inch: 7 connections - $295.61 to $447.87. HWC proposed $496.95.
Per each 100 cubic feet of water used, the Division also recommended an increase from $3.261 to $3.545.
An issue some Mountain Area residents highlighted at the September meeting was an increase to staff salaries, particularly for three management positions: HWC President Roger Forrester, General Manager James Foster, and part-time Compliance Officer Ralph Fairfield.
In the resolution, the Division denies HWC’s request for management’s $55,343 raise, a 23% increase from last year.
“The Division did not find support for HWC’s requested increase and finds HWC’s current management salaries reasonable for a company the size of HWC and level of managerial responsibilities,” the resolution reads.
Instead, the Division approved a raise of $3,468 for management to $242,528, split among the three positions. It added the raise was recommended at that level given management’s significant experience - Forrester 34 years and Foster eight - to handle complex projects.
The Division also accepted a proposed salary amount of $230,861 total for five full-time service employees.
Foster said the proposed resolution seemed reasonable, though he had yet to fully read it due to its release while he attended a three-day California Water Association conference last week.
“It’s not what he hoped for but that’s usually the way things work,” Foster said. “We’re pleased it happened as quickly as it did, because we’re in a situation now where almost all the water utilities in California are very behind the curve with revenue because of water conservation efforts.”
In the resolution’s findings, the Division added HWC is taking “necessary steps” to bring its water systems into compliance for water quality, and has secured more than $12 million in grant funds to install treatment facilities.
Steps to engineer and design such facilities have already been completed, the document said, and the State Water Resources Control Board has approved at least one such facility.
A treatment plant in Sierra Lakes is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016, with one in Raymond finished by early 2017, the findings note.
Initial reaction from some HWC customers was negative, though they said they needed to fully read the resolution and do further research before reaching a firm decision.
“It seems to me like this is exorbitant, right off the top,” said Casey Hawkins, owner of South Gate Brewing Company, a gastropub and brewery in Oakhurst. “It surprises me that they can increase rates this quickly. I’m not going to stop what we’re doing, our intention is to move forward and grow with this community and we’re not going to back down from that. But it could affect other businesses in this community interested in opening up and doing something that might require a lot of water. And that would be unfortunate.”
Public comments on the resolution are being accepted until Dec. 3, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and referencing “Proposed Resolution W-5070” in the subject line.
Comments can also be mailed to California Public Utilities Commission, Division of Water and Audits, at 505 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, Calif., 94102.
Hillview Water Co. serves four areas: Oakhurst-Sierra Lakes, Goldside, Raymond, and the Coarsegold Highlands, with approximately 80 miles of pipeline providing water in five service districts.
Details: A copy of the resolution is available at http://goo.gl/TDXBJ7. Division of Water and Audits, (415) 703-1133.