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Sanders Announces Utility-Rate Increase to Fund Water System Upgrades

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On Tuesday, Mayor Jerry Sanders announced proposed water and sewer rate increases. City officials say they are needed to help pay for government-mandated water system improvement projects. Full Focus reporter Heather Hill has more.

City officials warn San Diego's water and sewer systems are literally falling apart – to the tune of $1.4 billion in overdue repairs and upgrades. And utility customers may see hikes in their bills as early as next May.

Mayor Jerry Sanders and other city officials announced today that under a new proposal water rates would increase 26 percent and sewer rates would go up about 31 percent over the next four years. Rate increases are needed to comply with mandates resulting from an Environmental Protection Agency lawsuit and action brought against the city by the California Department of Health Services. One of the main infrastructure projects that need funding is the replacement of hundreds of miles of aging pipelines. Officials said water systems were not maintained to keep up with San Diego's booming population and massive development. Sanders said the problem is a familiar one.

Jerry Sanders: Previous deferrals and under-funding of our maintenance needs have contributed to a vast magnitude of costs over the next few years. These costs have gone up just like they did as we continue to under-fund our pension system. We've ignored these issues for a considerable amount of time, and unless we address them now, they're only going to get worse. They will not stay the same and they will not get better through continued neglect.

Sanders stressed additional oversight measures will be in place to ensure the public's money is spent properly, including yearly accounting reviews and the appointment of an independent review board. City Attorney Mike Aguirre said alternatives to immediate action could potentially be much more expensive.

Mike Aguirre: If we do not make these changes and there is a breakdown in either our water or our wastewater systems, then the city would be facing potential liability involving damages that potentially could be extraordinary.

Mayor Sanders has asked the City Council to provide rate-payers with a 45-day advance notice before the council weighs in on the proposal. Today, the Performance Institute came out in opposition to the mayor's plan, saying San Diegans already pay the second highest water and sewer rates in the state. They say more key reforms are needed before considering rate increases.

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