Property fee among suggestions for new Paso Robles water district

Dryland farming and ranching have given way to vineyards like this area off Linne Road just outside Paso Robles.
Dryland farming and ranching have given way to vineyards like this area off Linne Road just outside Paso Robles. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

When it meets Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider an application that will help form a new Paso Robles ground-water management district, including details on district boundaries, powers and a possible property fee to cover a $950,000 annual operating budget.

San Luis Obispo County project manager John Diodati laid out the information in a report for the board to consider as part of its application to the Local Agency Formation Commission.

The report suggests levying a property assessment of $2.10 per acre on the estimated 7,293 parcels within the proposed 774-square-mile district.

Whether the assessment would be implemented hasn’t been decided; the specific funding mechanism to cover the annual budget still needs to be determined, Diodati wrote.

Diodati said Wednesday that he has been meeting with stakeholder groups, including farmers and grape growers, to discuss the formation of the district. The discussions have focused on understanding the proposed district’s governance structure and the process of forming a new agency — not on issues such as water-use rules.

“The decision right now is who should manage the basin, not how to manage the basin,” Diodati said.

The county’s staff has worked with a government finance consultant, NBS, to explore levies that would provide a revenue stream to fund the district’s operations. The NBS report proposed a fee assessed equally among owners in all land-use categories — whether owners have homes, vineyards, ranches or vacant parcels. Diodati said that proposal, which does not take water use into account, could be adjusted.

An estimated 1,386 single-family homes exist within the proposed district, with about 46 percent consisting of less than 40 acres. The average levy would range from about $3.25 to $75.19 per year for them.

Irrigated vineyards make up about 12 percent of the district, and owners would pay an average annual levy of about $357 per year.

The district could be set up so assessments are based on land use, with higher costs for agricultural land.

The Board of Supervisors will consider, for the LAFCO application, a recommended district board of directors consisting of nine members: six landowners and three at-large seats held by registered voters in the district.

The district board would have two landowners possessing less than 40 acres, two owning between 40 and 400 acres, and two with more than 400 acres. The additional three at-large directors would be registered voters living within the district boundaries.

LAFCO is responsible for determining the range of powers of the new district, which would manage the Paso Robles groundwater basin.

The new district was authorized by a state law signed last year that was authored by Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo.

Forming a water district also will be a step in complying with another new state law called the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which requires troubled water basins to have management plans in place by July 2017.

The district’s proposed five-year budget anticipates spending $950,000 each year.

For the first three years, the district would spend about $250,000 annually for planning costs to help sustain the basin and $100,000 for such planning in the fourth and fifth years of operation.

Salary and benefits for an executive director would be about $187,000 annually, and $73,000 per year would be spent for an administrative assistant position.

In the fourth and fifth year of operation, as planning costs decrease, the district would hire a groundwater engineer at about $164,000 annually. About $100,000 annually has been set aside to pay for legal costs. The rest of the funds are earmarked for administrative and insurance costs, and for elections.

On Tuesday, the board will consider whether to approve the application, whether to make changes and how it may direct staff to work with LAFCO staff on holding a LAFCO hearing on the issue.

If the board approves the application and submits it to LAFCO, that agency’s staff may need two to three months to analyze it and schedule hearings for the commission.