• Tue. Sep 20th, 2022

Water Commission may award another $21.8 million in customer rebates • Long Beach Post News

ByChad J. Johnson

May 10, 2022

The vote is imminent because in March the city lost an appeal to keep in place the Measure M charter amendment, which allowed the water utility to transfer millions of dollars of surplus money to the fund each year. city ​​general. Voters approved the practice in 2018, but a judge’s ruling that it amounted to an unconstitutional tax means the city must transfer $30.8 million to the water fund by September 20.

Since the decision, officials have worked quickly to manage the fallout.

Long Beach already transferred $9 million to the water department in March, which it had to do within 30 days of the California Supreme Court’s rejection of its appeal in March.

The Water Commissioners, in turn, approved one-time rebates totaling $9 million for all of its residential and commercial customers, resulting in $100 credits for all accounts.

Last week, the water board voted to cut rates over the next few months by 2.54% in a move the department said would cost it about $3 million over the next four months.

But Thursday’s vote could allocate the final $21.8 million in appropriations differently. The department could allocate them based on the type of account and meter taken into account to allow customers who use more water to get larger reimbursements.

Lauren Gold, spokeswoman for the Water Department, said credits could range from around $160 for the average residential account to between $2,500 and $10,000 for large commercial accounts. Gold said the volume used is very different, with the average household paying around 90 cents per day and business accounts paying around $94 per day.

Thursday’s vote is one of the last steps the Water Ministry must take to comply with the judgment that ruled the Measure M transfers were unconstitutional. Proposition 218, a statewide law approved by voters in 1996, prohibits municipalities from charging more for utilities than it costs to provide the service.

Measure M applied to the city’s water, sewer, and gas utilities, but the court ruling stopped such transfers to the general fund only from the water and sewer funds. Bob Dowell, director of Long Beach Energy Resources, said the gas transfer would continue. Together, the three funds have totaled $23 million in planned transfers for the current fiscal year, which ends September 30.

The water board will also recommend a new charter amendment on Thursday that could combine the city’s water and gas utilities. The city council is expected to agree to place the question on the November ballot for voters to decide.

Initially, Long Beach planned to keep some or all of the illegally collected $21.8 million under Measure M to deal with infrastructure investments such as new underground wells or reservoir maintenance. water and underground pipes.

Officials said the court’s decision did not include an explicit requirement to return funds or decrease rates depending on when the transfers are completed. However, the water department pivoted this month and said it would lower rates and consider sending the rest of the $30.8 million to customers.

It remains to be seen whether rates will be reduced by more than 2.54%. Part of Thursday’s meeting includes a workshop where residents can give their input on the utility’s budget that will be submitted for City Council approval this year, which includes the rates charged for access to water and sewers.

When the council approved its budget last year, it estimated that every 1% increase in water rates was equivalent to about $1.1 million in revenue. The Measure M transfer totaled around $11 million a year.

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