The Alameda County Water District, which provides water to Fremont, Union City and Newark, has proposed to raise our water rates again. For single-family residences, there will be surcharges on water use over 16 units (1 unit equals 748 gallons). For everyone else, including apartments and businesses, water rates will increase 13.6 percent, regardless of water use.
ACWD has raised our water rates for at least 15 consecutive years, and the last rate increase of 7 percent was implemented less than six months ago in February. The average residential customer's water rate has more than doubled in nine years. It is long past time for the public to hold this government agency accountable for its actions.
ACWD says it needs to increase water rates because of the drought, but this is not a one-time rate increase. In fact, just four months from now, ACWD will propose another rate increase as it does every November, and its financial models project 8 percent rate increases into perpetuity.
To be clear, this drought has difficult financial implications for ACWD, but when there's an emergency, government agencies must put everything on the table to share the burden with the public. However, ACWD continues wasteful spending and is unwilling to consider reforming employee compensation, which represents about 60 percent of operating expenses.
Last November, ACWD's five-member, publicly-elected board of directors unanimously voted to spend $280,000 to write history books to celebrate its 100 year history. At a recent April meeting to discuss raising rates, one of the directors continued to justify this spending, even after ACWD declared a water shortage emergency. History books are not essential operations and should not be funded during an emergency.
During the Great Recession, many government agencies froze employee pay, including teachers' pay, as many people lost jobs. These employees shared in the sacrifice with the public. ACWD employees, on the other hand, received a combined 20 percent raise during 2008-2012. The Alameda County Grand Jury noted that this was the highest raise given among 30 government agencies in Alameda County.
In addition, ACWD employees received a bonus and raise in 2013 and will continue receiving raises through 2017. There has not been any shared sacrifice by ACWD employees during the recession and these dry seasons.
ACWD has also overpromised and underfunded retirement benefits for employees to the tune of $80 million, which the public is on the hook for. ACWD will continue to rely heavily on rate increases on the public, including seniors on fixed income, the unemployed, families struggling to pay rent, etc., to maintain its spending on history books and raises for employees who are well compensated (more than half of employees earn more than $150,000 in total compensation).
If you oppose the rate increase or believe ACWD should share in the sacrifice, please take one minute to send a protest email to DroughtSurchargeProtest@acwd.com. Include your name, address and phone number. ACWD legally cannot impose the rate increase if there is a majority protest.
ACWD will vote on the rate increase at a public hearing at 6 p.m. on July 17 at its headquarters at 43885 Grimmer Blvd., in Fremont. I encourage the public to attend and voice their opinions. If you feel the directors do not listen to your concerns, you can elect new directors in the November election.
Eric Tsai is a Fremont resident.