Oceano voters next year will get to decide whether they, rather than the local community services district board, can rule on selling the town’s surplus water.
The Oceano Community Services District board voted 4-0 Wednesday night to place an initiative on the Nov. 6, 2012, general election ballot that requires voter approval of any permanent water sale. Board President Jim Hill was absent.
The decision disappointed the initiative’s proponents, who hoped the board would choose to adopt the ordinance outright rather than seek voter approval.
In January, five local residents, concerned about the board’s consideration of selling some water to local developers or other cities, developed a petition for a proposed ballot measure.
In less than a week, they had gathered 577 signatures, which the county Clerk-Recorder’s Office validated.
The ordinance requires that any details of a proposed sale, including its effects on Oceano, be presented in a report prepared by a registered water engineer and a certified public accountant and mailed to every registered voter in the district no later than 60 days before an election.
Board member Mary Lucey favored immediate adoption, saying she was uncomfortable waiting until 2012 because she felt that it makes the community vulnerable to losing some of its surplus water to proposed sales in the interim.
General Manager Raffaele Montemurro announced that just 249 of the district’s 2,121 residential and commercial customers have submitted a formal protest on the rate increase — less than the simple majority that would have been needed to halt proposed water and sewer rate increases.
The district board in December started a process to raise the rates, giving property owners more than the required 45 days to protest.
The higher rates take effect Tuesday.
Under the proposal approved by the board, an average residential customer using 20 units of water would see his bimonthly water bill increase to $92.04 from $78.24, and to $99 in 2014-15. A unit of water is 100 cubic feet of water. The sewer portion of the bill would increase to $17.27 from $9.25.
District officials say it is necessary to increase water and sewer rates, both of which have not been raised in more than a decade, to repay reserves and meet operating expenses.
It would help stop the “hemorrhaging” of district funds, according to a memo distributed at the meeting.
However, other steps would be needed — such as pursuing grants, loans or another rate increase — to ensure the district’s long-term stability and to fund about $1.3 million in capital projects.