By Percy Ednalino
California Water Service Company customers in Visalia could receive higher bills starting next year if a proposed rate change is approved.
And residents in newly developed parts of Visalia could receive their water in the future from a city-owned and -operated system if officials get their way.
Calwater has applied for a rate increase for services over the next three years in the company's Visalia district. The California Public Utilities Commission is currently seeking public comment on Calwater's application.
Phil Mirwald, Calwater's district manager, said the rate increase is routine and is being proposed because of increased costs related to maintaining water quality, testing, labor and other operation costs.
"Every three years we'll file" for a rate increase, Mirwald said. "Hopefully at some point, some things will settle down and we won't have to ask."
Calwater is proposing a 24.8 percent rate increase for the 2005-'06 fiscal year. In '06-'07, the rate would rise another 4.82 percent. It would increase an additional 4.6 percent in '07-'08. The proposed increases would begin on July 1 of each fiscal year, increases will be seen in meter and flat-usage fees.
Customers currently pay 51 cents per cubic foot of water. Mirwald said a cubic foot contains 748 gallons of water.
Customers also are charged a service fee according to the size of water meter they possess. The service charge for the smallest meter size is $6.70.
That would increase to $7.90 in 2005. In 2006, it would go to $8.10. In 2007, it would be $8.30.
Mirwald said not all homes in Visalia have meters. Houses that were built before 1987 do not have meters, unless the owners requested they be installed.
For houses without meters, Calwater charges a flat rate charge according to the size of the home's lot. Customers with a lot up to 10,000 square feet currently pay $21.30.
That would increase to $26.58 under the first year, then jump to $27.86 and $29.14 for the final two years.
Mirwald said the money from the proposed increase would go toward construction of three new wells, a 1 million gallon water tank and water treatment equipment.
Mike Olmos, Visalia's community development director, said city officials are studying the possibility of creating its own water system in new growth areas that are outside of Calwater's district, such as northwest and southeast Visalia.
"There's an area in the southwest that might be considered, also," Olmos said. "These are fairly large areas that could support a separate system owned and operated by the city."
During the City Council's Oct. 18 meeting, council members received a report from the Building Industry Association of Tulare County that offered a preliminary look at a possible city-owned water system.
Olmos said the city is looking at the possibility of its own system for several reasons.
One reason is it allows Visalia to maintain control of its own resources.
"There also are some other concerns that have been generated by the development community," Olmos said. "Their relationships with Calwater have been difficult, I guess that's the best way to put it."
Council members will get a chance to discuss the issue once a feasibility study is complete.