The Cambrian

4 percent water rate increase starts this month in Cambria

The Cambria Community Services District brine pond.
The Cambria Community Services District brine pond.

Starting this month, Cambrians will be paying 4 percent more for water service and sewage treatment.

That action was buried in a one-sentence notation in the Feb. 23 general manager’s written report from Jerry Gruber to the Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors.

The notation read, “Update on Resolution 01-2016 adopted on Feb. 12, 2016 — Resolution of the board of directors of the Cambria Community Services District adopting increased water and sewer rates, effective March 1, 2016.”

The notation was one of 10 one-sentence updates listed in Gruber’s report, which also listed 20 meetings or phone conferences the manager had attended or held.

Many of those meetings were with or about actions Gruber and district officials have taken to correct deficiencies that triggered three recent violation notices from the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, including various options for disposing of excess brine and rainfall in the Sustainable Water Facility’s brine pond.

The 2016 rate resolution mentioned in Gruber’s report increased total water and sewer rates for Cambrians by about 24 percent, depending on water use and other factors. District officials said then that the increases were needed to fund normal annual costs of water and sewer operations, especially because Cambrians had, and continue to have, one of the highest water-conservation rates in the state.

Reduced water use means lower income for the district.

The 2016 resolution also included four years of possible additional increases of up to 4 percent per year. As Gruber explained it Feb. 23, “the resolution allowed for those incremental increases” to cover expenses for such items as “balancing the budget, inflation, infrastructure repairs” and more.

This most recent increase was one of those.

According to Gruber, the district’s budget committee (board President Amanda Rice and Vice President Greg Sanders) reviewed the potential rate hike and approved it.

That didn’t sit well with Director Jim Bahringer, who said all directors and the public should have been able to review the proposal before letters about the 4 percent increase were sent out to customers, due to happen this week.

“I’m strongly of the opinion that is something I think the board should have looked at. It should not be automatic,” he said, because the increase could have been for less than 4 percent, or not at all.

“In the future,” Bahringer said, “I think that’s something we take a hard look at … without me finding out a minute ago that we’re sending the letter next week.”

However, there were no comments about the rate increase by any of the five people who spoke during the public comment period after the manager’s report.

In other actions, the board unanimously approved new fire codes and postponing (probably to the March 23 meeting) hiring a firm to help the district recover a possible sales-tax overpayment on purchases made by a contractor for the Sustainable Water Facility. State law exempts certain projects from paying sales tax, including the construction of desalination facilities. The legal firm feels the SWF, which reclaims a brackish blend of salt and fresh water, along with treated effluent, would qualify for the exemption.

The directors voted 4-1 to approve a maximum additional allocation of $119,210 to Michael Baker International, which is preparing environmental studies for the SWF, and to continue suspending surcharges and penalties for customers who use more than their allocations of water or otherwise violate the district’s enhanced water-conservation regulations.

Director Harry Farmer voted no on those two items.

Kathe Tanner: 805-927-4140

If you go

The Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors plans to hold a special meeting at 3 p.m. Thursday, March 9. The meeting, to be held at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St., is to review the recommended midyear adjustment for the district’s 2016-17 fiscal-year budget, and to get the auditor’s report on the district’s 2015-16 financial transactions.