Utility Rate Hikes Receive Council’s Backing

Despite concerns from residents and its own members regarding the timing, the Burbank City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to move toward increasing utility rates.

The water rate is set to increase by 1.96% in October, as well as in January and April next year. The electricity rate will increase by 1.24% in October 2021 and April 2022, while the refuse rate will increase by 2% in July 2021.

Burbank Water and Power officials told council members that the phased-in approach would keep the rate increases from hitting customers during the summer months, when utility usage — and rates — surge.

BWP administrative officer Sean Aquino said at the council meeting that the electricity rate increase would raise the monthly bill of a single-family home using 550 kilowatt hours a month by about $2.17. The average monthly bill for an apartment or condominium using 350 kilowatt hours a month would increase by an estimated $1.31.

A small-family residence — including an apartment or condominium — using about 6,000 gallons a month would see its monthly bill increase by about $2.47, Aquino added, with medium-family residences’ bills increasing by $4.08.

In total, BWP expects the three rate increases to bump up the average apartment or condominium resident’s bill by roughly $4.44 a month, while the average single-family home is projected to pay an extra $6.91 a month.

The BWP also estimated that the average monthly utility bill for a local small business will rise about $5.10 for electricity and $7.38 for water once the increases are phased in.

HIKES, TIMING DEBATED

The rate increases are necessary, BWP officials said, to account for the utility’s higher operating expenses, keep financial reserves above minimum levels, and invest in or repair infrastructure.

There are about 278 miles of BWP water pipes in Burbank, Assistant General Manager Richard Wilson told the council during a meeting earlier this month. About 30 miles of pipe is roughly 100 years old, requiring testing to make sure those sections won’t suddenly break.

Burbank’s goal of being completely greenhouse gas-free by 2040 also requires additional funds, BWP General Manager Dawn Roth Lindell said.

“This is a heavy lift,” she told council members at their May 4 meeting. “There is no revenue-neutral path to sustainability. We will have to invest.”

Utility representatives also emphasized this week that BWP was nearing its minimum level of financial reserves, and that it had decided against increasing its rates last year due to the pandemic despite the rising cost of water.

They also disputed claims from some residents that Burbank’s utility rates were higher than those of nearby cities. Even if the rate increases are approved, they said, the cost of electricity and water in Burbank to residents would be less than it is in Pasadena, Glendale and Los Angeles.

But some residents — including about 100 who messaged the City Council — opposed the rate increases. Several said they understood the utility needed to pay for its projects, but worried that the extra costs would further hurt residents still reeling from the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The timing of this utility hike is tone-deaf,” said Jackie Waltman, who was one of two residents who addressed the council regarding the rate increases on Tuesday. “We’re coming off of a pandemic where people have been out of work for a year and … the city of Burbank [is saying], ‘Oh, now that you’re just about to get up, we’re going to knock you down again.’”

Other community members also expressed particular concern for low-income residents and local seniors, as well as for those whose utility bills have increased while working at home during the pandemic. The reservation was shared by council members, who encouraged BWP officials to augment their aid programs for low-income residents before October, with Councilman Konstantine Anthony suggesting small businesses be included.

“It’s an issue that gives me heartburn, because the timing is not ideal,” Councilman Nick Schultz said, adding that some residents are still waiting for their unemployment checks. “That doesn’t detract from the importance of doing the right thing … but it’s something that we need to acknowledge.”

The City Council is set to approve the municipal budget during its next meeting on Tuesday.