The Cambrian

Cambria residents will see higher water and sewer bills next year after protest vote fails

Cambria Community Services District Sustainable Water Facility.
Cambria Community Services District Sustainable Water Facility.

If you get your water and sewage treatment from the Cambria Community Services District, your bills are going to be higher starting in January.

A movement objecting to those rate increases — under California’s Proposition 218, which voters approved in 1996 that requires a 50 percent plus one majority of affected city residents and property owners to block an assessment or property-related fee proposed by a local government — fell short by about 700 protest letters, according to protest official Erica Inderlied (Pismo Beach city clerk).

About an hour after the tally began Oct. 4, she told the board and audience that 1,268 total protests were submitted by district customers, so she deemed that a full, further protest-by-protest tabulation wasn’t required to declare that “no majority protest exists.”

According to the revised notice of proposed rate increases sent Aug.17 estimated that, when new rates go into effect Nov. 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 the current bill of $180.65. Use more water in a billing period, and rates per unit go up.

However, some who felt the increases were too high, too soon, have estimated that the increases would be much higher.

Protests

The protest shortfall was not for lack of trying by such dedicated rate-increase opponents as Tina Dickason, who led one successful rate-hike protest about a decade ago and another that came so close that the board stopped the increases anyway.

She was one of two audience members to speak out before the hearing.

“I have not seen, with any of the rate increases imposed on us, significant improvements in infrastructure, especially at the waste-water treatment plant,” she said.

She also spoke about neighbors who already have “$300 and $500 water bills. Can you imagine how shocked” they’ll be when they get their first bills under the new rates,” she asked, “and an elderly man choosing between his medications and his water bill.”

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Vote and discussion

After the announcement of the official count and a little discussion, board members unanimously approved the motion to approve the rate increases, although Director Harry Farmer hesitated so long before casting his “aye” that some may have thought that he wasn’t going to vote.

In the discussion, Director Jim Bahringer said all major expenditures should go through the infrastructure and finance committees before coming to the board. And several directors, including Bahringer, who noted that while there weren’t enough protests to stop the rate increases, “the protest count is not insignificant.”

Farmer echoed that sentiment, saying that “in the past, it would appear that your money hasn’t been spent wisely.”

However, he said, “this rate increase is not happening in a vacuum,” with lots of changes at the district. The general manager was terminated,” he said, “there’ll be new people (and officers) on the board in December. We’re hoping for more public involvement in 2019,” so the district’s customers can see “how we’re using our time and your money.”

Morro Bay, California, needs to replace its aging wastewater treatment plant, which was built in 1953. The California Coastal Commission has denied a permit to build a new plant near the Pacific Ocean.

He also had high praise for Director David Pierson, who leads the district’s finance committee.

Pierson highlighted some incoming financing software that allows statistics to be separated project by project, “to be very transparent” about “how money is being used, and how it’s accounted for on a particular project.”

Director Aaron Wharton indicated his desire to “have a priority list” of projects, “so we can start saving up money” to accomplish those goals.

“We don’t want to go into this blind, have this be a blank check. We want to have a priority list and spend the money responsibly,” Wharton said.

Board President Amanda Rice said one of her takeaways from the protest period is “we’re still not meeting our goals in communicating with the community … Hopefully, moving forward, we won’t be looking in the rearview mirror, but looking at where we hope to get.

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