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Santa Margarita rejects water rate increase 

Just leave it to Santa Margarita.

The small, tightly-knit community needed 261 protest forms signed by title holding residents to reject a proposed water rate increase: 262 were submitted.

In response to drought conditions and mandatory conservation requirements, Santa Margarita—an unincorporated community that uses groundwater pumped and treated by San Luis Obispo County—reduced its water use by 32 percent. With that usage reduction comes a decrease in revenue. That’s an issue, because most of the operating costs for the county are fixed, said Public Works Department Administrator Will Clemens.

“When I have a financial hat on, water conservation is a bad thing because your revenue disappears,” Clemens said. “From your water resource hat, water conservation is a great thing because we don’t want to run out of water.”

As a result, Community Services Area 23, which provides Santa Margarita with water, is almost out of money. To fix this, rate increases were proposed, a process already happening in several other cities and communities in the county.

The increase upset some residents, however, who saw the increases as punishment for conserving water and wanted to see a tiered rate structure. The protests followed, per Proposition 218, which gives rate-payers and property owners the opportunity to protest rate increases.

Clemens told New Times that this is the first successful protest to any rate increase for county-provided services since the 1997 implementation of Proposition 218. Now, it’s back to the drawing board, because the budget has to be balanced, somehow.

“We have to raise the rates. We have to go back out and do this process all over again,” Clemens said. “In the end, it’s going to cost the community more money to change the rate structure.

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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