BAKERSFIELD, CA - Big water bill increases could soon be on the way for half of the homes in Bakersfield. California Water Service Company says it is proposing increasing rates by more than 25 percent over the next three years.
The increase affects 65,000 homes and businesses mostly in the center of town. The company said with aging infrastructure and employee costs rising, it has no choice but to turn to ratepayers.
Right now, Maria Rangel pays about $40 a month for water.
"It's not great, but it's not much and it goes up with the summer coming up and all," said Rangel.
Soon that bill may increase even more because her water provider, California Water Service Company, is proposing a gradual rate increase over the next three years.
There are two options about how to implement the increase: gradual or immediate. The gradual plan would increase rates by 11.7 percent in 2014, 14 percent in 2015, and 2.5 percent in 2016. The immediate increase would raise rates by 20.4 percent in 2014, 2.5 percent in 2015 and 2.5 percent in 2016.
The immediate increase would generate nearly $17 million by 2016. The gradual increase would generate about $2 million more funds, charging interest to compensate for the lack of funds in the first year.
"I don't like it at all. It's a big increase," said Rangel. "Twenty percent for everybody that lives here? We pay enough so I'm not really happy with it."
Rangel is one of 65,000 customers in Bakersfield who was sent a letter about the increase. Those customers live in the areas east of Stine Road and west of Oswell Street.
"I'm on a fixed income so every penny of mine counts," said Lonnie Jauch, a customer of California Water Service Company, who could possibly see a rate increase.
If the immediate increase plan passes and you pay $47.56 on your water bill now, Cal Water estimates you'll pay about $58.21 more a month in 2016.
"I could buy groceries with those extra dollars, this and that," said Jauch.
"The thing is we're not asking for more than what we need," said Rudy Valles, District Manager for California Water Service Company in Bakersfield. "We don't want our customers to pay more."
Cal Water said it will use the money for three things, $3.7 million to update aging infrastructure, $1.9 million for maintenance and $4.3 million for maintaining the same employee benefits like health care and pensions.
"If we didn't have those benefits, if we didn't pay what we do, we wouldn't have anyone to operate the system," said Valles.
Customers, however, said passing the bill to them isn't the answer.
"They have to find other solutions," said Rangel.
There will be a hearing about the proposed rate increase April 29th at 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at 1501 Truxtun Avenue.
The California Public Utilities Commission will then decide how much of an increase is necessary.