On Dec. 8, the Atascadero Mutual Water Company’s board of directors is scheduled to decide whether to raise rates for about 30,000 customers. If board members go with the staff recommendation, those customers would see a 15 percent increase in their bill over the next year.
The increase is intended to offset the $2.4-million-annual debt Atascadero owes to pay for capital costs of the Nacimiento Water Project. Four years ago, the company implemented an 8 percent increase to pay for operations and maintenance costs. The Nacimiento Water Project will pump water along a 45-mile pipeline from Paso Robles to San Luis Obispo and the communities in between.
If the rate increase is approved, the average Atascadero resident will see their water bill jump from $56.80 per month to $65.90 in the summer, according to a company staff report. Board members have the option to choose between an 8 percent to a 15 percent increase, though staffers are recommending the high end.
The water project’s total price tag is $176 million; Atascadero’s share is roughly $38 million, plus the interest that will be accrued over the 30-year payback, according to water company General Manager John Neil.
Neil said the company anticipated it could balance the capital costs with fees charged on new water connections, but the sluggish economy forced members to ponder other options.
“It’s better to react early to these things,” he said.
Nacimiento Water Project Manager John Hollenbeck said the project recently completed a five-day test, and officials are preparing to run a 30-day test, after which the pipeline can start feeding water to the participating communities. Paso Robles, however, isn’t ready to receive its share of water as city officials hash out water rates. Hollenbeck guessed the city won’t be able to receive water for several years.