One way or the other, the Paso Robles groundwater basin will have to be managed. That’s the law, and there’s no getting around it.
That will require money — there’s no getting around that, either.
That’s why we believe the Board of Supervisors did the right thing last week when it voted, 3-2, to approve a parcel tax funding formula that will generate approximately $950,000 per year to hire staff and to develop a plan to restore the health of the basin.
The board doesn’t have the final say; the fate of the proposed parcel tax will be up to registered voters living in the unincorporated areas of the basin. The all-mail election is scheduled from Feb. 8 to March 8; to pass, the tax requires the support of twothirds of voters.
If the tax is approved, the revenue can go either to a newly created water district — if such a district is approved by basin property owners — or, should the district fail to win approval, to the county Flood Control District.
The roughly $950,000 per year would fund office space; a two-person staff (a general manager and administrative assistant); legal fees; public outreach efforts; and development of the actual plan. It will not, however, cover the cost of any supplemental water projects.
Because the county would have to hire additional staff and open an office in North County — it’s out of room in its existing office — annual expenses would be about the same, whether it’s a new water district or county Flood Control in charge.
How does the projected budget compare to other districts?
Here’s one example: Administrative expenses — such as office space, salaries and benefits for office staff, insurance, legal fees, etc. — for the Atascadero Mutual Water Co. are about $1.4 million per year, though it does serve a substantially larger population.
That said, $950,000 is a substantial expense, and we don’t doubt that it will be a burden for some landowners. But it’s far better to be realistic and assure an adequate and dependable revenue source, whether it’s the county Flood Control District (controlled by the county Board of Supervisors) or a newly cre ated water district that ultimately takes on the responsibility.
There is one other alternative: If voters don’t want to fund local management, that would open the door for the state to step in and take control of the planning effort.
While the state isn’t talking cost estimates, it’s likely to be a much more expensive proposition. And as Supervisor Frank Mecham pointed out last week, the state wouldn’t worry much about local input. Mecham raised the example of the state’s controversial fire prevention fee — a $152 per-parcel tax imposed on some rural property owners — as evidence of the way the state operates.
We have another example: About 10 years ago, the state was poised to assume responsibility for maintenance of the flood-prone Arroyo Grande and Los Berros creeks. Flood control fees for homeowners were set to jump from $5 a year (they had been unchanged for many years) to $846 per year. Faced with such an exorbitant increase, property owners voted in 2006 to increase their annual fees — they went up to $390 for the typical homeowner — and control remained in local hands.
You could argue that it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison, but it is a stunning example of how much more things can cost when Sacramento is doing the billing, rather than local officials who are accountable to local voters.
Bottom line: There will be many months to argue the pros and cons of whether county Flood Control District or a new water management district is the better way to go. But we believe it’s clear that local control is far preferable to state intervention. We urge voters of the Paso Robles groundwater basin to approve the parcel tax that will make local management possible.