The Issues: Rate Increases. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is on pace to have its maximum reserves exceed its board-adopted maximum by $319 million (or 66% more than maximum level) in fiscal year 2014. Tax Hikes. Last June MWD’s board halted a scheduled property tax decrease, saying it needed more money in order to maintain its “fiscal integrity.” The result: An additional $4.4 million in taxes from property owners to MWD over and above water rates.
January 2012: MWD’s staff told the board it needed 5% rate increases in 2013 and 2014 to maintain critical water delivery infrastructure and avoid layoffs. They said an alternative proposal of 3% rate increases in those years would threaten water supply reliability.
July 2012: Just three months after adopting the budget and 5% rates increases for 2013 and 2014, MWD ended FY 2011/12 with revenues of $97 million over budget.
June 2013: MWD projects it will over-collect $217 million in excess revenues, resulting in reserves exceeding its maximum limit by $75 million. The MWD board also voted to suspend the tax rate limitations in Section 124.5 of the MWD Act, resulting in an additional $4.4 million in unbudgeted revenues from higher-than-scheduled property taxes. Staff claimed the action was necessary to maintain MWD’s “fiscal integrity”.
Despite efforts by ratepayers, business groups, community leaders, mayors and several Southern California water agencies asking to reduce the planned rate increase and allow the scheduled property tax decrease, the MWD board voted to raise taxes and spend $75 million on unbudgeted costs and programs; it chose to do nothing with its 5% rate increase scheduled to take effect in 2014. Leaving the 5% rate increase would generate MWD about $15 million, staff reported.
January 2014: Having already diverted $75M on unbudgeted uses, MWD still began FY 2014 with more than $62 million over its maximum reserve level, in violation of its own Administrative Code. MWD could have easily avoided the 5% rate increase in 2014 by using a quarter of the $62 million for that purpose. Staff now reports MWD is on track to add another $270 million to its reserves this fiscal year, thus exceeding the maximum level by $319 million.