All five Chino Hills city council members made it clear during Tuesday’s meeting they were not to blame for passing on five years of sewer rate increases imposed by the Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA).

The IEAU is a wastewater treatment agency that provides sewage utility services to Chino Hills and six other contracting agencies.

Nobody from the public spoke against the increases but they will have a chance to vote against them if they return their protest ballots to the city of Chino Hills.

The city will provide return envelopes in the ballot, said Chino Hills spokesperson Denise Cattern.

Residents should receive them in the mail by the end of March.

The city council authorized a Prop. 218 election proposing a 3 percent increase this July, a 3 percent increase in July 2021, and an amount up to 10 percent in each of the years 2022, 2023, and 2024.

The IEUA approved a two-year rate increase plan at its November 2019 board meeting with 3 percent increases each year.

The board was pursuing a five-year rate study but was asked by its member agencies to do further evaluation, said IEUA board member Steve Elie who represents Chino Hills.

Mr. Elie said the two-year rates at 3 percent each year are interim while the Agency continues to determine how best to serve all its customers in the region.

“We’re doing everything we can to continue to keep costs down,” he said. “Our rates are among the lowest, if not the lowest in the Inland Empire for the service we provide.”

Covering costs

Councilwoman Cynthia Moran said the last thing the council wants to see is one of its utilities going up. “There’s nothing more we can say, unfortunately,” she said. “If we tell the IEUA we won’t pay it, we won’t get services from them.”

Mr. Elie said he can understand why the city included three years of up to 10 percent rate increases to avoid another costly Prop. 218 election, but he doesn’t believe the increases will be that high.

“Nobody wants to pay more but we have to protect the assets of the public by charging a rate that’s covering the costs of our treatment plants,” Mr. Elie said.

Mayor Bennett said the approximately $95,000 cost to retain Koppel & Gruber Public Finance to conduct the election will be paid for by interest that is earned by the city when it collects sewer development fees from developers on behalf of the IEUA.

According to Finance Director Christa Buhagiar, these fees are held until the IEUA requests funds for capital projects. The city currently has approximately $6.6 million which is earning interest, she said.

“The anticipated amount of income for fiscal year 2019-20 is $140,000, which more than covers the cost of the Prop. 218 process,” Mrs. Buhagiar said.

Residents will have 45 days to return their notices. A public hearing will be held in Chino Hills council chambers during a regular council meeting May 12 when the votes will be tabulated by Koppel & Gruber.

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