CCSD budget up for consideration today slashed 13% from prior year

Rate hike revenue, emergency water supply cost not included due to uncertainty

San Luis Obispo - The TribuneJune 26, 2014 

When services district directors meet in Cambria today (Thursday, June 26), they’re expected to give final approval to the agency’s $7.3 million operating budget for 2014-15.

Expenditures are estimated to be nearly $7.5 million, a 13 percent reduction when compared with the 2013-14 budget. Last year’s expenditures were $8.6 million, or $1.1 million more than the proposed budget.

The budget does not include projections for an emergency water-supply project that’s under construction, because it’s not yet known whether a proposed rate increase that would pay for the project will be approved. General Manager Jerry Gruber said those revenues and expenditures would be addressed in a midyear budget process.

But other topics are almost certain to be discussed during the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors meeting set for 12:30 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St.

For instance:

• With less than a month to go, some townspeople are banding together to protest those water-rate increases designed to help pay for the emergency 

water-supply project. The protests would be filed under a state requirement to notify all ratepayers in advance about proposed increases, and to give them an opportunity to protest.

A hearing on the increases is set for July 24. 

The increases would be applied in a tiered manner, so those who use the most water above their allocation would pay the most per unit (748 gallons). To stop the rate increase that’s due to kick in starting Sept. 1, at least 1,970 of the district’s current 3,938 customers (50 percent plus one) would have to file official protests. 

Protest organizers said in a blanket email, “For starters, this is not the 

$1.5-to-$2 million project we were first led to believe.” Current estimates for the plant’s cost are at $8.8 million, with a 20 percent contingency to cover unexpected costs. The district has applied for a $3.75 million drought-emergency grant from the state.

Protest organizer Tina Dickason wrote that “the project has some significant issues that need to be overcome, and it will not be available before the end of the year, if indeed even then.” 

Gruber said, “I have no comment on the protest process. I am only focused on getting the emergency water supply project up and running and making sure the community does not run out of water.” 

• Utilities Manager Mike Finnigan resigned “abruptly” last week, according to Gruber, who said he cannot discuss details because it’s a personnel matter.

The wastewater plant must have a Grade 3 operator on duty eight hours a day, five days a week, Gruber said in an email interview. “The state is aware of Mike’s departure,” and because of the sudden nature of Finnigan’s resignation, the state understands “that filling that position cannot happen overnight. I have an excellent working relationship with the state,” Gruber said, which will be “helpful during our transition.” 

Gruber said he selected wastewater operator Ben Easton as the district’s temporary wastewater supervisor. 

“Although Ben does not have his Grade 3 (license), I am encouraging him to pursue” it, while also providing Easton “the necessary training to be successful. In the interim, I am evaluating several options to include looking for someone locally that has a Grade 3 license to meet the immediate licensing requirements of the plant and reaching out to other Grade 3 operators or higher that may want to be a part of our team.”

Gruber said that, when he recently prepared an updated organizational flow chart, he didn’t know Finnigan planned to leave the district. However, that chart didn’t include a utilities manager slot, replacing that position with separate supervisors for the water and wastewater departments.

In the past, the district has flipped back and forth between having and not having a utilities manager. In fact, that was Gruber’s first job with the district when he was hired in September 2010.

• In Cambria’s current drought emergency — defined by www.drought.gov as being in the worst category of “exceptional” —  community members continue their extreme conservation measures.

According to a data report, the district produced 38.27 acre-feet of water in May, a month in which average production since 1988 has been 64.4 acre-feet. Use in May 2013 was 68.45 acre-feet; the highest use was 76.66 acre-feet in 2004. An acre-foot is 325,900 gallons. 

 


Rate protest information

Customers of the Cambria Community Services District can find rate-increase protest information online at www.cambriacsd.org.

Follow Kathe Tanner on Twitter at @CambriaReporter.

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