San Diego Union-Tribune

Water district plans July start for rate hike

- Karen.pearlman@sduniontri­bune.com

The Helix Water District plans to raise rates for its East County customers starting in July.

While actual dollar amounts won’t be set until a cost of service study and the budget for the coming year are approved by the board in March, the Helix Water District Board of Directors last week proposed increasing rates to the district’s average single family residentia­l customer by $3.45 per month.

Helix bills customers every other month, with the current bimonthly bill for customers using 20 units of water about $155. The cost will rise to $162 every two months after a public rate hearing on April 28 and the board’s final approval.

The rates proposed will cover fiscal years 2021-22 and 202223, but Helix Water District Board President Joel Scalzitti reminded the other directors, staff and constituen­ts that the district will continue to look at its budget on an annual basis.

The five-member board voted 4-1, with Mark Gracyk opposed, to move forward with the rate hike as part of its budgetsett­ing process for 2021-22 as it plans for the next five years.

The board also voted 4-1, with Gracyk opposed, to change its three Wednesday meeting times to 3 p.m. The board meets the first, third and fourth Wednesday each month.

Helix plans to use $5 million from its rate stabilizat­ion fund and cut $5 million from expenses to keep the rates from rising higher, Helix Administra­tive Services Director Jennifer Bryant said. The cuts include $3 million from planned pre-payments to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and $2 million from the district’s capital building program. Helix maintains a $1.4 billion infrastruc­ture to deliver water.

The district’s expenses in 2020-21 are expected to increase by just over $10 million, Bryant said. Much of that is because of a $7 million increase in the cost of purchasing water from the San Diego County Water Authority. Imported water from the Colorado River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta makes up the majority of the district’s water supply and half of the district’s operating budget.

The Helix Water District distribute­s water to more than 275,000 people and businesses in the cities of La Mesa, El Cajon and Lemon Grove, as well as to those in Spring Valley and other unincorpor­ated areas in East County.

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