Bob Dunning

Bob Dunning: And now, class, a water rate lesson

By From page A2 | July 20, 2014

While the City Council has done its level best recently to finally simplify our water rates to avoid both confusion and class warfare, some folks are still suffering from post-traumatic-CBFR syndrome and any mention of water rates sends their to head to spinning.
My friend Otto, for one, has a pertinent question about the new and improved “87/13” rate structure that was finally adopted by the council and now will face a Proposition 218 “protest” procedure before becoming the law of the land in November.
Otto has correctly presumed that the 87 is the variable portion of the bill, based on consumption, while the 13 is the fixed portion.
All of which prompts him to ask the perfectly reasonable question as to how the city can determine that the “fixed” part of his bill is 13 percent of the whole before it knows how much water he consumed in any given month.
Writes Otto: “I don’t understand the 87/13 split between consumption and fixed costs. Surely it does not mean that 13 percent of my bill will be for fixed costs, because my total bill will depend on how much water I use. So the percentage of my bill for fixed costs will depend on my consumption. What am I missing?”
Well, for one, you’re going to be missing a fair percentage of the family budget beginning the first of November.
So here’s the deal. Despite its definition as “fixed,” that 13 percent of your bill is merely a best estimate compared to how much water the city presumes you will be using.
Come November, assuming any 218 protest fails, the monthly fixed rate on your bill will be $8.88. They were going to go with $6.66, but thought there might be religious objections.
So, if $8.88 is to represent the fixed 13 percent of your bill, it means the variable 87 percent should cost you right around $59.40 a month, bringing you to a grand total of $68.28.
If you hit the variable factor exactly, it means you have used right around 20 ccf of water that month.
However, if you use just 3 ccf because you spent most of November in Palm Springs, that 87/13 ratio flies right out the window.
While the $8.88 will indeed remain fixed, the 3 ccf will cost you just $8.76, for a total of $17.64. Those numbers are about as close as one can come to a 50/50 split, which turns the much-debated 87/13 compromise into a legal fiction.
And, if you want to add another layer of complexity to this discussion, ponder this. While the “variable” charges will indeed go up or down based on your monthly consumption, the rate the variable charge is based on will be “fixed.” Yes, fixed.
In the last two months of this year and in all of 2015, for example, the “fixed” rate for “variable” use will be $2.92 per ccf. No matter how much your water use varies, the amount you will be charged per ccf will remain fixed.
For very low water users in town, the fixed charge actually may exceed the variable charge. Conversely, for very high users, the variable charge may well exceed 90 percent of the bill.
There will be a quiz at the end of this discussion, but whether it will test your understanding of the language or your understanding of mathematics remains to be seen.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]

Bob Dunning

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