FALLBROOK – Notices explaining maximum potential rate increases for the Fallbrook Public Utility District began appearing in Fallbrook mailboxes in early October.
The notices explain, in detail, the cost of providing water and sewer service to customers. They take into account any potential rate changes for the next five years, identifying a maximum, not-to-exceed dollar amount. Sending the notices is a requirement of Proposition 218, which was passed by California voters in 1996.
Prop. 218 mandates that water and sewer rates cannot exceed the cost of providing services. In other words, FPUD and other public water agencies are not allowed to make a penny of profit off their rates.
FPUD had an independent consultant evaluate its finances and expected necessary repairs to its pipelines and infrastructure, among other factors. The maximum rate increase to the average residential water bill for 2023 would be up to 6.5% for water and up to 5% for sewer. The notices project out rates for the next five years.
Per the voter-passed initiative, Prop. 218, any increases are subject to a protest process and a public hearing. The public hearing is Nov. 16 at the FPUD office and customers and property owners can submit a written protest before or at the meeting as detailed in the notice received in the mail.
The proposed rates must also be approved by the board of directors at the November meeting. All board members are also residents of Fallbrook and therefore, ratepayers.
"As both a resident of Fallbrook and protea grower, I understand the impact water costs have on both residential customers and businesses," said Dave Baxter, board president.
"We have been able to cut costs and implement operational savings in the past that helped us keep rates below the projected increases, yet with rising energy, materials and chemical costs we need to take steps to keep the district financially sound.”
“In the past we relied largely on purchased water as our sole water supply; this cost has been increasing 8% annually over the last decade” said Jack Bebee, general manager. “We are doing a number of things to mitigate these rising costs."
Here's what FPUD is doing to keep rates from rising:
• It is engaged in efforts to detach from its wholesaler, the San Diego County Water Authority, to buy lower-cost water from Eastern Municipal Water District. This move would allow the board to save an estimated $3 million per year, and potentially reduce or freeze rates for a period of time. It is engaged in this effort with Rainbow Municipal Water District.
• FPUD is buffering expensive imported water purchases by using local supplies. In November, FPUD began tapping the Santa Margarita River, after almost seven decades of legal hurdles, to gain access to the river's water. The water now provides a significant portion of FPUD's water.
• It is engaged in efforts to expand its recycled water system. This will increase its capacity to deliver highly treated recycle water, produced locally, for landscaping and irrigation.
If anyone is interested in participating in the public hearing, either virtually or in person, it is Nov. 16 at 9 a.m., in person or via Zoom, at https://bit.ly/3qEI80e.
Submitted by Fallbrook Public Utility District.