The Idyllwild Water District (IWD) directors unanimously decided to maintain water and sewer rates at the current levels rather than implement the possible 6-percent rate increase authorized last year.

The board also agreed to continue its June 21 meeting to 5 p.m. June 30, in order to review and decide upon its preliminary 2011-12 budget.

The draft budget before the board assumed operating expenses of about $1.1 million and operating revenues, primarily water sales, of $831,000. With non-operating revenues exceeding $300,000, the total water budget would produce a $76,000 gain and the sewer budget (total expenses of about $430,000) would have about $10,000 excess revenue.

“We haven’t gotten to the point where we’re comfortable using reserves or to bite the bullet to fund the inevitable [rate] increase,” said Director Jim Billman, a member of IWD’s budget committee. Committee colleague and Director John Cook said the agency needs to develop a long-term financial plan in order to guide themselves on what level reserves should be maintained.

“Depleting reserves makes us uncomfortable but we don’t know if it’s a problem,” added Cook. “We’ve also got to address [employee] benefits. How do we adjust benefits to work out for everyone?”

While the board agreed to study its financial plan and employee benefits in a fall workshop, it also voted to limit wage increases to merit justifications without any cost-of-living adjustment in the 2011-12 budget.

Later in the week, IWD President Allan Morphett summed up the board’s decisions, “We live in a community of limited resources and the IWD board is charged with the responsibility of being good stewards of the money that is paid for water. Our challenge is to follow our mission statement to provide water and sewer service in a cost-effective manner.”

Following the board’s closed session about General Manager Terry Lyons’s performance appraisal, Morphett announced, “Our general manger, Terry Lyons, does an excellent job managing the IWD and has accomplished a lot. But, following the decision to not approve a COLA [cost-of-living adjustment] or implement the previously approved rate increase, we felt that it was our responsibility to provide a type of compensation that was going to reflect this. Thus, we chose to compensate him for one of the two weeks of unpaid leave he already has in his original compensation package. If this were different times we would have done differently.”

Conversations with state water resources officials have raised Lyons’ optimism that IWD’s recycled water facility planning report will be approved shortly. After resubmission incorporating several changes discussed in these sessions with staff from both the California Department of Public Health and the State Water Quality Control Board, IWD will move to the next step.

The district has been encouraged to submit an application for construction of a recycled water facility, according to Lyons. The application would request a loan, but concurrently also request forgiveness of the repayment because Idyllwild is a disadvantaged community.

“We will apply for a state loan to construct this project contingent on receiving forgiveness to convert the loan funding amount to grant funds,” he stressed to the board.

Meanwhile, Lyons and Morphett have been meeting with customers who could use the recycled water for irrigation purposes. “I’m hoping to have the commitments next week,” Lyons said

In water business, Lyons said, “Creek flow is still amazing for this time of year. Tahquitz at the bridge is flowing pretty good.”

In the first five months (through May), water production was 28.6 million gallons, which is 1.2 million (4 percent) less than the same time in 2010. The 2011 production volume is 25 percent less than two years ago and the lowest volume since 2005.