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Council Backs Sewer Fee Hike : Utilities: Increase would average 7.5%, boosting residential bill about $1.19 a month. It is sought to close projected deficit of $54 million.


The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday tentatively agreed to increase sewer rates by an average of 7.5%, in an effort to close a projected $54-million deficit caused by the city's water conservation program.

The council action, which must come back for a second reading next week, would raise residential sewer rates by about 9% and the higher commercial sewer rates by about 5.9%. The average monthly residential bill would rise by $1.19.

The rate increase passed by a narrow margin, 8 to 6, with Rita Walters, Ernani Bernardi, Mike Hernandez, Richard Alatorre, Nate Holden and Mark Ridley-Thomas voting against the measure.

Opponents of the rate increase argued that it unfairly punished residents for conserving water and would create a burden on low-income people.

Sewer charges are based on water consumption and with city residents conserving water at record levels, sewer system revenues have fallen dramatically.

Proponents of the rate increase argued that the funds are necessary to maintain the sewer system, which they say is critical to the cleanup of Santa Monica Bay. Without the increase, they said, the city would default on millions of dollars in bonds used to finance sewer construction.

To close the projected $54-million budget gap, officials have cut expenses by about $47 million. They hope to raise the remaining $7 million necessary to balance their budget through the rate increase, according to a city report.

Under the existing rate, the average residential bill was expected to be about $15.85 a month, according to Gerry Miller, senior administrative analyst. But with city residents cutting water use by about 30% so far this year, sewer charges have fallen to an average of $13.05 a month.

If the new rate is approved and residents continue to conserve, the average bill would climb to about $14.24 a month, according to the CAO report. The rate would go into effect about 30 days after receiving final approval from the council and the mayor. Miller said that could be around Dec. 1.

The Department of Water and Power is also seeking a rate increase to offset the effects of the five-year drought and the city's conservation effort, that has led to a projected $98.8-million deficit. Now pending before the City Council is a proposal to increase water rates by 11% and to double an emergency surcharge, to raise about $22.8 million.

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