BARSTOW The city's water bill from Golden State Water Company came in far over budget this year.

The city had budgeted $275,000 on water utility costs, but actually will need to spend $508,015 this fiscal year almost double its original estimate, Assistant City Manager Oliver Chi said at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

The city used less water this year but was billed almost double the expected amount, Chi said. The city had been working to reduce its water usage and did not begin any additional landscaping programs that would have used more water, according to the city's mid-year budget update.

Chi said staff would work with Golden State to determine why its costs were so high and what could be done to reduce them.

Finance Director Cindy Prothro said Wednesday it was too soon to know the exact cause of the spike in costs but that Chi was working with the company to determine what happened.

Prothro said the city receives bills for each of its water meters like residents do, except on a much larger scale. By tracking the cost of each bill, staff noticed that costs were coming in much higher than anticipated, Prothro said.

Golden State spokesman John Dewey said he could not speculate on what caused the city's high water bill and could not release private customer information.

"We believe we have a good relationship with the city of Barstow and we're working with city officials to answer questions about their water usage and if needed help them identify ways where they can reduce their bills through being more water-efficient," Dewey said. "As is our practice, we will continue to communicate with them when there are changes to their rates."

Barstow's water utility has been a source of controversy in recent years. The company filed with the state Public Utilities Commission for permission to hike water rates by 27 percent from 2013 to 2015, a move that faced community opposition at a public meeting last year.

The proposed rate increase is currently before the Public Utilities Commission. Administrative Law Judge Richard Smith plans to publish an official opinion regarding the increase in October. Barstow Mayor Joe Gomez and City Council members have spoken out against the proposed increase, saying it would create a serious economic burden for the community.

The city filed a motion Jan. 27 to request party status for future Public Utilities Commission hearings and shares legal costs for an outside law firm with the cities of Claremont, Cypress, Placentia and Stanton.

The utility also raised rates by 20 percent two years ago.

Water rates are a "sensitive subject" in Barstow, Prothro said. "It just shows that the city's not immune to it either."

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(760) 256-4126 or spearson@desertdispatch.com

City of Barstow's water costs

2010 actual
$309,935

2011 adjusted
$265,870

2012 proposed
$275,000

2012 adjusted
$508,015

Source: City of Barstow budgets, Fiscal Year 2011/12 Mid-Year Budget Update.