The Zone 7 Water Agency Board of Directors held back on implementing a previously approved 6.7% water rate increase for 2021, aiming to provide some relief to Tri-Valley ratepayers in light of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The unanimous decision last Wednesday confirmed weeks of work by agency staff to analyze the budget and revisit the rate increase schedule after the directors indicated they wanted to help the many residents and businesses impacted by the sudden and unforeseen downturn, according to Zone 7 officials.
"Like all water agencies, we have a duty to charge rates that cover the cost of providing clean, safe water to our customers. At the same time, we recognize that many in our close-knit community are facing financial hardships," Board President Sandy Figuers said in a statement Thursday.
"After careful consideration, the Zone 7 Board of Directors has decided to delay the previously approved rate increase to provide relief and stability to the Tri Valley community," he added.
Zone 7 is the potable water wholesaler for southern Tri-Valley water service providers, including the cities of Pleasanton and Livermore, the Dublin San Ramon Services District and the California Water Service Company's Livermore division. The cost of purchasing Zone 7 water is passed through to residential and commercial customers via the local providers in their water bills.
The water agency adopted its current four-year rate schedule in 2018 that included a set increase for each calendar year from 2019 to 2022 -- including a 6.7% rate hike scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2021.
But after witnessing the economic distress throughout much of the Tri-Valley due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated shelter-in-place order, Zone 7 directors decided they wanted to help provide some financial relief.
As part of approving Zone 7's 2020-21 fiscal year budget, including a special meeting in May and the final vote on Wednesday, the board and agency staff developed a plan to use one-time savings and defer some projects in order to freeze rates at the current level through Dec. 31, 2021.
"Even with deferred or slowed projects, work critical to water quality and supply operations will not be compromised," officials said. "Further, work related to capital improvement projects to maintain water supply infrastructure and work related to providing future water supply reliability will continue as planned."
The directors pushed out the 6.7% rate increase to take effect in 2022 instead, replacing the previously scheduled increase for that year.