Most Cambrians should have received a by-mail notice describing proposed services district rate increases, which if approved could start as soon as Sept. 1.
Those 4,540 notices were to have been sent out by a mailing house as early as Friday, July 13, Monique Madrid, district clerk for the Cambria Community Services District, said Tuesday, July 17.
Under the new rate structure over a five-year period, residential sewage-treatment rates would soar by approximately 71 percent, and rates for well water and treated water from the Sustainable Water Facility (along with other costs related to the plant on San Simeon Creek Road) would go up a combined 47 percent.
Before the hefty new rates can go into effect, however, residents, business owners and landowners within the Cambria Community Services District will have to decide individually if they are willing to pay increased bills or formally protest the new rate structure by Aug. 30.
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That option is required by the state’s Proposition 218, the “Right to Vote on Taxes Act.”
According to district staff and rate consultant Alex Handlers, the proposed increases would fund capital improvement projects, many of which have been postponed for years, even decades.
Ratepayers and property owners may protest some or all of the proposed rate increases, Madrid said.
CCSD’s notice outlines ratepayers’ options, why CCSD feels the increases are needed and what the new rates will do to customers’ bills.
If 50 percent or more of those eligible to do so file written protests, the rates cannot go into effect. Taking no action counts as endorsing the increases.
Only one protest will be counted per parcel.
“If you’re a renter and the CCSD bill is in your name, you can protest,” Rice said. “If you own that property, you can protest. But only one of those protests will count.”
District records show 3,938 parcels get CCSD water from municipal wells and from the Sustainable Water Facility when it’s operating.
Therefore, at least 1,970 verified written protests would be needed to stop increases in those two rates.
The district includes 3,827 parcels that receive sewage-treatment service, so at least 1,914 protests would be needed to stop the new sewer rates.
The gap is because some Cambria properties still have septic systems.
Protests must be written and must include specific information. They can be submitted: By mail to P.O. Box 65, Cambria CA 93428; in person at the district office, 1316 Tamsen Drive, suite 201; or in person at the public hearing to be held Aug. 30.
After months of research and hours of public debate, some of it heated, CCSD’s board voted 3-1 on July 12 to proceed with the state-mandated process for approving the new municipal utility rates. They opted for the updated, phased-in “Scenario B” option in which rates could further increase gradually over the five-year term.
In the vote, the directors changed that annual increase from being added automatically to requiring board approval each July.
Board President Amanda Rice was absent for the vote; she was attending a state Coastal Commission hearing in Santa Cruz.
Director Harry Farmer voted no. He maintained, as Rice had said in previous meetings, that the board should give the standing committees more time to fine tune the budget, perhaps allowing the district to further lower the rates before putting them out to the CSD’s customers.
Handlers and the district say CCSD needs the additional funds to repair, modify and replace aging infrastructure that’s nearing the end of its useful lifespan, and some of which could fail if those issues aren’t attended to soon.
Under Scenario B, the consultant estimates the new rates would raise from approximately $400,000 to $700,000 a year for capital improvement projects, reaching the higher level as (and if) rates go up by 4 percent a year.
Those objecting to the new rates say the increases are too big, and that district officials and the board aren’t doing a good job managing the CSD’s current income, especially on expenditures for the Sustainable Water Facility, a lobbyist, legal fees and other expenses.
The notice estimates that, if new rates go into effect Sept. 1, bi-monthly bills for the “average” single-family residence that uses six units of water every two months (or about 75 gallons a day) would increase to $211.30, from a current bill of $180.65.
Use more water in a billing period, and rates per unit go up.
Rates listed in the notice are the maximum the district can charge during this five-year period. However, the board could opt to lower the rates if costs prove to not be as high as projected by figures provided to Handlers by CCSD staff.
Handlers modified the final proposal’s figures slightly from those presented earlier, based on the district’s recently approved interim budget for 2018-2019. His changes produced in a minor decrease in the proposed rates, according to Rice.
Residential well-water rates include base, bi-monthly and quantity charges, with a sliding scale per unit of water, based on how much is used.
There are fixed and quantity charges for sewer service and the Sustainable Water Facility, based on the amount of water provided to the residence.
Commercial rates would rise, too, but the largest increases would be for sewage treatment, based on sewage strength. For instance, a restaurant would pay a higher rate-per-unit than an office.
Commercial water rates would be based on the amount of water used. Sustainable Water Facility charges for businesses would be based on meter size and on how much water is used.
Staff says an interim three-year rate increase approved in 2016 only included a small amount for infrastructure maintenance and repairs, not nearly enough to accomplish what must be done if the district can continue to reliably provide water and sewage treatment.
Increases were needed then, according to staff, because costs to provide water and sewage-treatment services were exceeding the revenue taken in by the two departments, which are supposed to be self-sufficient.
CCSD officials said in 2016 that the district hadn’t adopted increases to its regular water and sewer rates in more than six years, and prior to that, those regular rates had only risen four times in the previous two decades.
Tina Dickason, who led protests against previous rate increases, made it plain at the board’s June 21 meeting that she plans to do that again. “We’re not going to pay the piper any more, if I have anything to do with it. I’m ready for a Proposition 218 (fight), and I think other people are too.”
In 2007, she led the protest in which Cambrians defeated an increase proposal and in doing so, may have made history, becoming the state’s first larger community to turn back rate increases under Proposition 218.
Also, for more than a month, some people have been signing Christina Tobin’s online petition.
As of Monday, July 16, Tobin’s “Fight the Hike” petition had accumulated 182 signatures since May 29.
Even if the number of protests falls short of stopping the increases, the board could decide not to implement them at the hearing at 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, in the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St.
If the protest fails, and the district’s Board of Directors votes at that same meeting to approve the increases, the new rates could, indeed, take effect Sept. 1, according to district counsel Tim Carmel.