LANCASTER — Customers of Los Angeles County Sanitation District 14 will see their bills increase by just under $1 per month, or $12 annually, in each of the next four fiscal years, through June 2023.
The district’s Board of Directors voted 2-0 for the proposed increase Thursday morning. The quorum consisted of alternate directors Marvin Crist and Austin Bishop, representing Lancaster and Palmdale, respectively. A third director representing Los Angeles County was absent.
District 14 serves Lancaster and portions of west Palmdale, along with unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County on the west side of the Valley, including Quartz Hill.
Fewer than two dozen people attended the public hearing, held at 9:30 a.m. at Lancaster City Hall.
The rate increase is the first after four years of keeping the rates flat, said David Bruns, head of the financial management department for the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts.
It was proposed to cover increased operation and maintenance costs — covering inflation costs — and for $40 million in capital improvements to the wastewater treatment plant over the next five to six years. These improvements are necessary to replace equipment that was installed in 1958 to 1994 and are nearing or at the end of their useful lives, he said.
“We have to pay the bills,” Crist said. “The treatment needs to be done. It’s not like we’re overspending in this district.”
For residential customers, the sewer fees will increase from the current $39.67 per month ($476 per year) for a single-family home to $40.66 per month ($487.88 per year) for the 2019-2020 fiscal year which begins July 1.
For each of the subsequent fiscal years, the rate will increase another 99 cents per month, ending with a monthly rate of $43.63 ($523.52 per year) in the 2022-2023 fiscal year.
This amounts to about a 2.4% rate increase, according to the staff report.
Multi-family residential units will pay 60% of the single-family home rate, and condominiums pay 75%.
Commercial rates will be increased by the same 2.4% as residential customers.
According to the staff report, the statewide average rate for facilities that treat wastewater to a tertiary level allowing for its reuse in some applications — like the Lancaster and Palmdale treatment plants — was $53 per month in 2016-2017, the last year data was available.
“Even with this proposed rate increase, it is still significantly below the statewide average for a similar level of treatment,” Bruns said.
Customers of Sanitation District 20, which serves primarily Palmdale, pay a higher rates, nearly $100 annually for a single family home, Bruns said. This is because the district’s customer base is smaller, so there are fewer economies of scale, and because the district has had to pay for groundwater contamination cleanup issues.
Residential and commercial customers who use significantly lower amounts of water may qualify for a reduced rate under the districts’ low water rebate program, Bruns said. Information to apply for the program is available on the website, www.lacsd.org.
The fee increase was approved under the state’s Proposition 218 process, which allows for a protest vote of half the property owners notified to prevent the increase. In this case, more than 51,000 notifications were sent, which would mean about 26,000 would have to protest in writing. The district received 11 written protests to the rate increase.
One protest was from Assemblyman Tom Lackey, which angered Crist, as much of the costs in operating the sanitation district are due to meeting state requirements.
Bruns said his office reviewed the complaint with Lackey’s staff and cleared up some misconceptions regarding the rate structure.
“It’s a political embarrassment when they make the rules, they expect us to respond to the rules, abide by the rules, and then we have to pay for it someway,” Crist said. “And then they send us a letter saying, ‘Don’t increase the rates.’ ”
“If anyone’s responsible for raising the rates, it’s these guys,” he said.
During Thursday’s hearing, about a half dozen people spoke against the rate increases as being too onerous for ratepayers.
Lancaster resident Michael Rives requested the rates be set for only one year at a time, instead of for four years, in order to respond to annual changes in other revenues such as property taxes.
The four-year rate plan is the maximum rates that may be charged over that period and may be lowered in each fiscal year budget if conditions warrant, officials said.
Additionally, the Proposition 218 process incurs costs in itself, which officials try to minimize by not repeating it annually.