Idyllwild Water District’s quest for greater funding and cost sharing from the state for the district’s proposed recycled water facility is inching forward, according to General Manager Tom Lynch at the board’s meeting last week.
The state water agencies rely on the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for calculating the community’s median household income. This is the basis for designating a community as disadvantaged and therefore eligible for more grant funds rather than loans. IWD failed to meet this designation because the 2012 survey estimated Idyllwild’s median household income as $54,167, but this included residents of Fern Valley and Pine Cove.
On the recommendation of former General Manager Terry Lyons, the board requested an income survey of just district residents. That income survey, which the district commissioned last fall, was completed and submitted to the state in February.
Specialized Utility Services Program Inc. conducted the work during November and December. The result of the survey was a median household income of IWD residents of only $42,996, which is just below the state’s threshold for a disadvantaged community.
Besides the median income, the state applies two other criteria — population and customer fees. Lynch told the board that the population threshold was less than 20,000 people, which IWD easily satisfies. However, the fee sewer customers pay has been a more difficult hurdle for IWD to meet.
Financial Officer Hosny Shouman and Lynch are negotiating with the state over the sewer fees IWD customers pay. Generally, the state prefers to award communities who impose fees in the $53-per-year range. Idyllwild’s sewer fees average $28 annually. With the inclusion of the customers’ property taxes earmarked for the sewer district operations, it increases to $48.
“The state thinks the sewer fees are too low for the median household income for this community,” Shouman explained.
“One other area that we might include is deferred payments and I’m recommending some other adjustments,” Lynch told the board. “I think we can barely get there.”
Most other business was deferred to the April meeting. A public hearing on the standby water and sewer assessments is scheduled for the April 16 meeting. Changes to the Personnel Manual will be considered then, too.
Also, consideration of a proposed revision to District Ordinance 62, which specifies how the district will establish and implement a water-shortage emergency plan also was deferred to April.
The revision is needed to account for statewide code requiring water sprinklers in construction. Since IWD restricts the number of “will serve” or equivalent dwelling unit (a usage metric), Lynch said, “Now that fire sprinklers must be installed with any new construction, we need a way to account for the additional water fixtures [sprinklers]. We are looking at different ways to account for the new fire requirements. Do we do it by fire sprinkler count, the size of the service, the size of the meter, etc.? We are still researching the matter.”
Since IWD entered Stage 2 status on Sept. 1, 2013, the district has issued three “will serve” letters, whose total EDU count was 3.84.
Lynch also reported that the projected cost of the new Tollgate storage tank is about $456,000, which is $116,000 more than the original estimate of $300,000. The board authorized the difference to be transferred from reserves.
The tank is awaiting warmer weather to thoroughly dry inside, then the interior and exterior painting can be completed so the tank can begin being filled.
In the first two months of 2014, water production was 11.6 million gallons — 2.5 million (12.6 percent) less than the first two months of 2013. Despite the drought, this production level still exceeds the average production level for 2010 through 2012 by 14 percent.
Before the meeting started, the board adjourned to closed session to discuss potential litigation, which President Jim Billman said came to the board’s attention after its March agenda had been posted.