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Public input leads Riverside Public Utilities to soften rate hike plan

By in Press Enterprise on November 26, 2017

By Ryan Hagen

As Riverside Public Utilities officials pitched their plan for rate increases to community groups over the last few months, they consistently heard the same reaction: No. That’s too much.

They listened.

A revised plan, with lower rate hikes, will be presented to the Riverside City Council and Board of Public Utilities at a public meeting Tuesday, Nov. 28.

The plan also includes increased support for low-income customers and scales back plans for vastly increased rates for agricultural customers.

Girish Balachandran, general manager of Riverside Public Utilities.

On average, the revised plan for the next five years calls for electric rates to be increased by 3 percent — instead of 4.8 percent — and for water rates to go up by 5.7 percent instead of 8.6 percent. Different types of customers and amounts of usage would receive different rates.

This is done by reduceing the number of proposed infrastructure projects, stretching the remaining projects to be implemented over a longer period and lowering the size of the cash reserves, said Riverside Public Utilities General Manager Girish Balachandran.

“This is very responsive to community outreach,” Balachandran said by phone. “It really balances affordability with reliability and financial health much better than our initial proposal.”

Rates haven’t gone up since 2010 for water and 2011 for electric, as infrastructure needs have piled up, he said. That period included a severe economic recession as well as the worst drought in 125 years, which led many other agencies to increase their rates.

At the same time, the utility was hit with the embarrassing revelation this spring that a single dispatcher received $257,000 in overtime last year. Increased hiring and oversight were implemented since then, and officials now say the problem is solved.

If rates don’t increase now, it’s certain that there will be a negative impact to utility operations and bond ratings, […]    

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