Current rates don't cover water, sewer costs in Cambria

Consultant hired to study rate structure lays out current situation

betling@thetribunenews.comMarch 20, 2014 

Cambria’s water and sewer rates haven’t gone up in five years, are in the middle of the pack compared to what other agencies charge, aren’t keeping pace with inflation and need to increase to cover the cost of supplying the service, Cambria Community Services District Directors were told at a special meeting Thursday, March 13.

About three dozen members of the public and directors heard Alex Handlers of Bartle Wells Associates of Berkeley present a PowerPoint presentation at the hour and half meeting. The district is paying Bartle Wells about $44,000 for a rate study expected for completion later this year.

The meeting opened with district General Manager Jerry Gruber giving his own PowerPoint on infrastructure needs for the district. Major items that should be upgraded or replaced include about 10 sewage lift stations ($2 million), the main water pumping station on Rodeo Grounds Road ($2 to 3 million) and the Fiscalini Ranch and Stuart Street water tanks ($1.5 to 1.75 million), Gruber said. That’s a total of $5.5 to 6.75 million.

The district also has a number of emergency generators that need to be replaced. 

“We just started the study a couple weeks ago,” Handler said. “We want board, public input. We want to build consensus. We want to move the finances so it will allow good stewardship of resources.”

The district “is community owned,” he continued. “It’s a government agency. It’s all ‘us.’ There’s no ‘us versus them.’”

Current water revenues cover about 90 percent of expenditures and sewer revenues 95 percent of costs, Handler said. His figures show water use bills per month were $23.35 in 1993 and are now $30.06 per month.

The district’s rate structure currently includes some water with the base rate, Handler said, which is not the practice with most agencies, which have a base rate to cover fixed costs and then charge something additional for each additional unit of water used. Since there’s no extra charge for what’s included in the base rate, it amounts to “free water,” he said, which drew immediate cat-calls from the audience, saying since they’re paying something for it, it’s not free water.

“We’re not opposed to rate increases,” said Tina Dickason during the public comment period. “We’re opposed to unfairness.”

Dickason was one of the leaders of the successful Proposition 218 drive that overturned two proposed rate increases in 2008 and 2009 before the third proposed increase went into effect.

“Sixty percent of residents are 55 and over,” she said, “many are on fixed incomes.”

Mahala Burton also called for any rate increase to hit those “not using the average amount.” Burton also suggested increasing rates more on commercial users, since “they’re making money off it.”

“We want people’s ideas,” Director Gail Robinette said.

Director Amanda Rice said people can email her with ideas about rate adjustments. Her district email address is directorrice.ccsd@gmail.com.

Follow Bert Etling on Twitter at @betling.

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