The Cambrian

Cambria services board considers water-rate increases

Decisions, decisions.

Directors of Cambria’s services district could decide Thursday, Nov. 12, whether to approve a consultant’s plan to raise rates for water and sewage-treatment services, along with the timing for implementing the plan.

They’re also to consider adopting a key groundwater management plan. The meeting starts at 12:30 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St.

As currently projected, those rates would kick in Jan. 1. For that process to meet state guidelines for allowing the public sufficient time to protest the rate hikes, Cambria Community Services Directors would have to OK the plan today and authorize staff to mail out formal notices Friday, Nov. 13.

Once ratepayers have those notices of proposed increases in hand, they’ll have 45 days to make the next crucial decision: whether to protest the proposed rate hikes or allow them to take effect after a public hearing at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 29.

The protests can be filed in person at the December hearing, or in letters that absolutely must follow a proscribed pattern described on the hearing notice.

At least 50 percent of the district’s ratepayers would have to file formal protest letters in order to stop the rate increases.

Details of the proposal and the agenda for the meeting are at www.cambriacsd.org.

The notices

The front of each notice from the district would include a property’s assessor’s parcel number (APN), ratepayer’s name and address. The front also would state “Notice of Public Hearing on Proposed Increases to Water & Sewer Rates.”

The notices would explain why the district believes increases are needed, what the proposed rates for water and sewage-treatment services would be, and how those increases would impact a typical home in which residents use 6 units of water every two-month billing period (about 75 gallons per day).

“Approximately two-thirds of residential customer bills are at or below this level of use; customers with lower water use would face smaller impacts,” according to the notice.

However, as explained at a workshop meeting for the ad hoc rate increase committee Nov. 3, the district has for years included the first 6 units of water in a base rate of $23.82. Under the new scenario, the base rate of $25.50 would be just that, and the first 4 units of water would cost $6.50 each.

The fifth through 16th units would cost $8.50 each.

Those two tiers cover most of the district’s residential bills, according to consultant Alex Handlers and Patrick O’Reilly, the district’s finance manager.

Additional increases of up to 4 percent could be levied annually, if approved by the board.

Why increase rates?

CCSD says it needs more revenue because its water and wastewater departments aren’t self-supporting, as they are supposed to be, and maintaining service levels contributes to the drain on the district’s general fund.

The district’s cash-flow crunch has been exacerbated by lower income from water sales — a result of conservation practices mandated by the district, county and state — and by a delay in receiving a $4.3 million state drought grant for the district’s emergency water-supply project that filters brackish water and reinjects it into the San Simeon Creek aquifer.

69 words: The district built the plant last year under an emergency permit from the county because officials felt the community could have been at risk to run out of water, and because the permit carried with it a deadline for the project to be built. The district has applied for a permanent permit for the project, and a consultant is preparing a lengthy report to list and address environmental concerns.

Early reactions

The Cambrian conducted an informal, unscientific Facebook survey between Nov. 5 to 9, asking for early opinions on the rate-increase proposal.

Some, like Kathy Unger, believe the increases are inevitable.

There are a lot of retired people in this town on fixed incomes. We can’t afford any more rate hikes. Pretty soon, only the very rich will be able to live here.

Darlene Wadsworth

The district “needs a certain amount of revenue in order to maintain an adequate supply of water for the community,” Unger wrote. “The drought and resulting shortage of water doesn’t lower their annual cost of doing business. They still have to pay their bills. So where else is this revenue supposed to come from? It has to come from the consumers. Life just isn’t fair … it is simple economics, supply and demand. Only in this case, the CCSD isn’t trying to get rich. It is trying to maintain its required level of service.”

Later, she noted that “we could also discuss government waste, high salaries, benefits and perks. But those are probably a mere fraction of the funds that are needed to provide service, and we do need qualified people to run things. But it wouldn’t hurt to trim the waste.”

Sue Atkinson Robinson wrote that she’s shocked that this proposal surprises people.

“Did they actually think the rates would go down now that CCSD is bringing in less money?”

On the other side of the philosophical fence, Darlene Wadsworth called the proposal “outrageousness. We conserve and then (are) punished by rate increases. There are a lot of retired people in this town on fixed incomes. We can’t afford any more rate hikes. Pretty soon, only the very rich will be able to live here.”

Did they actually think the rates would go down now that CCSD is bringing in less money?

Sue Atkinson Robinson

Jill Hillary wrote that “we have cut our water use in half ever since requested. It’s like being between a rock and a hard place … to flush or not to flush!”

Rate increases elsewhere

Cambrians are in good company in the water-rate-increase scenario. Water-service rate hikes are cropping up in other communities across the drought-stricken state, including some in this county.

Santa Margarita residents stopped a proposed rate hike of nearly 35 percent in September. The county Department of Public Works recently launched another, similar plan to see whether the proposal will fly this time.

Likewise, Paso Roblans could be facing the return of a monthly fixed charge plus higher per-unit costs. A unit is 748 gallons.

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