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Water Rates in Whittier to Jump 29% Next Month as City Updates System

August 13, 1987|MARY LOU FULTON | Times Staff Writer

WHITTIER — Water rates in Whittier will jump 29% next month to pay for a $7.7-million revenue bond approved by the City Council this week to finance improvements to the city's aging water system.

And, in a separate action, the council Tuesday approved steep increases in some fees charged by the planning and engineering departments, including requests for zoning changes and conditional use permits.

City officials have been discussing long-term water system improvements for the last six months, but were concerned about public reaction to the rate increase. However, the public hearing only drew responses from two citizens, one who favored the plan and one who opposed it.

Mayor Pro Tem Sabina Schwab said it would be disastrous if the water system is not properly upgraded and maintained. "You cannot Band-Aid a system like this," Schwab said. "If you're going to do it, you do it correctly and you do it now."

The 29% rate increase--which also applies to commercial users--will add about $4 a month to the average residential water bill of $13.80, according to city staff reports. Despite the increase, Whittier's water rates will be comparable to those in surrounding cities. The average monthly water bill in Pico Rivera is $20.48 and the average in Santa Fe Springs is $15.14. The plan also calls for annual rate increases of about 4% until 1991.

The bond will allow the city to upgrade wells, water plants, reservoirs and other facilities--improvements the city staff says are necessary to keep the water system operating for the next 50 years.

The capital improvements and water rate increases affect only the 12,500 residences served by Whittier's city water system and will not affect the 17,000 residences served by Suburban Water Systems of La Puente. The city's water service area is principally the older sections of town north of Whittier Boulevard toward Rose Hills.

Fee increases for services of the planning and engineering departments were recommended after a study by a consulting firm showed that the city has been subsidizing these services at a high rate. The study, by David M. Griffith & Associates, shows that citizens requesting planning services were paying an average of only 14% of the costs, and 24% of the costs for engineering fees.

The study recommended revising the two department's 28 existing fees and creating 13 new fees. Together the fee adjustments will increase general fund revenues by an estimated $101,000 annually, according to City Controller Irwin B. Bornstein. The study was the first time Whittier had taken a comprehensive look at its fee services, he said.

Under the new fee schedule, the charge for zone changes and conditional use permits would increase from $400 to $1,000. Permits to construct new driveways will increase from $25 to $100 and grading permits will increase from $100 to $550.

In addition to adding to the general fund, the fee increase also will help the city stay within the Gann spending limits imposed by a state constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1979.

The Gann limit is calculated by a formula based on population growth and the national consumer price index, and Whittier came within $50,000 of its $15-million limit in fiscal 1986-87. This year, the city has a $700,000 cushion. Even so, city officials make spending and revenue decisions with one eye on the Gann limit.

"The more the city relies on non-tax revenue sources to support operations, the less constrained it will be by the Gann limitation," Bornstein said. "We can use that additional fee revenue to provide room each year in our Gann limit."

Bornstein said he wasn't aware of any complaints about the fee increases made to his office or to the departments of planning and engineering. However, there may be more public response to fee increases for police and recreation services, which the council is scheduled to take up at its Aug. 25 meeting.

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