Proposed water rate hike would be used to fund employee benefits

Proposed water rate hike would be used to fund employee benefits
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — A proposed three-year rate hike by California Water Service was soundly denounced by its customers at a hearing held by the California Public Utilities Commission in Bakersfield.

Among other things, rate payers are upset Cal Water Service would use the money to pay for its employee benefits. In a notice sent to customers, Cal Water Service noted that $1.5 million was needed to "retain the same level of employee health care, pensions and retiree benefits for district personnel."

Eyewitness News asked Cal Water Service Vice President Paul Townsley if it was fair that rate payers should be paying for employee benefits.

"It's a fixed cost of providing service of doing business, and yes, that is an appropriate cost to pass on to the customers," said Townsley.

Customers, especially those who live in Kern River Valley, say they already pay more than enough and are using less water at the same time.

"Our average water bill (in Kern River Valley) is $200 to $900 a month, and people can't afford that," said Rose Tice, who attended the hearing along with several others from the area.

Cal Water is asking CPUC for approval to increase rates for water service throughout the state by 19.4 percent in 2014, another 3 percent increase in 2015 and yet another 2.9 percent in 2016.

Cal Water serves 67,000 customers in Bakersfield and another 4,300 customers in Kern River Valley. The rate hike for Kern River Valley comes out to more than 44 percent over a three year period.

"California Water Service has a pretty significant history of raising our rates," said Kern River Valley resident Tom Wright.

Kern County Supervisor Mitch Gleason attended the hearing and urged CPUC Administrative Law Judge Anthony Colbert to reject the proposed rate hike.

It will be awhile before any decision is made on the matter. CPUC could reject all of the proposal or grant a lesser amount than what Cal Water Service is asking.