The Cambrian

Water rates could rise; Cambria board likely to vote Nov. 12

Under tentative, draft proposed increases for water and wastewater-treatment rates, the bill for a Cambria resident who uses six units of water in a two-month billing period would increase Jan. 1 by $33.25, or about

25 percent, according to a consultant.

Under a flat-rate-plus-usage scenario proposed Tuesday, Nov. 3, by consultant Alex Handlers to the Cambria Community Services District ad hoc rate committee, that resident would pay $68.50 for water and $75.45 for sewage treatment, for a total of $143.95 for the two months.

The district’s current charges for those services are $35.92 for water and $74.73 for sewage-treatment, for a total of $110.65.

(Neither total includes charges for construction and operation of the district’s emergency water-supply project. For the hypothetical customer above, that would be $25 per billing period. A separate fee is charged when the plant is operating.)

Subsequent increases of 4 percent per year for five years would have to be approved by the district Board of Directors.

Time is short

The 32 pages of stat-dense calculations presented Tuesday by consultant Alex Handlers of Bartle Wells Associates were to be further tweaked based on input from the sparsely attended workshop. A few of the seven attendees made some comments and suggestions, as did CCSD directors and ad hoc committee members Jim Bahringer and Amanda Rice.

Those adjusted pages are to be posted on the district’s website by Friday, Nov. 6, and then presented to the entire board at a special meeting at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St.

$143.95would be the total two-month charge for water and sewage treatment under the proposed increase.

Ratepayers who want to influence what’s to be presented to the board should consult the revised proposal at www.cambriacsd.org and comment to General Manager Jerry Gruber at jgruber@cambriacsd.org or Finance Officer Patrick O’Reilly at poreilly@cambriacsd.org. Bahringer said copies of the document will be available at the district office, 1316 Tamsen Drive, Suite 201.

Bahringer also said he’d be answering questions starting at 1 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9, in front of the Veterans Memorial Building.

Rationale

The study recommends larger increases in residential water rates, and smaller ones on the sewer side, in part because a state revolving fund loan for a 1990s-era wastewater treatment plant upgrade ends after the 2015-16 fiscal year, reducing annual costs for that department by approximately $174,000.

The two departments, called “enterprise funds,” are supposed to be self sustaining. They are not, and a sharp drop in water use, mandated by state, county and local emergency drought declarations, has reduced the departments’ income to a sliver-thin margin teetering into the red zone.

Staff says some small rate increases in the past 20 years haven’t kept up with inflation, let alone higher operating costs.

Among those who would see the largest difference in their residential water bills would be ratepayers who use the minimum amount of water. For years, the district has included the first six units of water in a base rate. Under the new scenario, the base rate would be just that, and the first four units of water would cost $6.50 each. The fifth through16th units would cost $8.50 each. Those two tiers cover most of the district’s residential bills.

Future actions

If the board approves of the rate-increase proposal, a notice would be sent the next day to ratepayers and property owners, who would have 45 days to protest the hikes.

The board would then convene Tuesday, Dec. 29, to receive the protest tally. If 50 percent or more of those eligible to protest did so, the rate increase could not go into effect. If the protest level was less than that, it would be up to the board to decide whether or not to adopt the rate hikes. If it did so, the new rates would go into effect Jan. 1.

There’s a real financial incentive for the quick turnaround: According to Gruber, a two-month delay in implementing the rates would cost the district about $40,000.

The district has found itself in a severe cash-flow crunch lately. It constructed the $13 million emergency water-supply project under an emergency permit from the county, which had some deadlines attached.

CCSD applied for and was awarded a $4.3 million state drought-fund grant toward the plant’s construction, but the check is not yet in the mail. Payment was delayed by requirements of the grant, including the need to have an updated, approved groundwater management plan.

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