Directors of Pine Cove Water District unanimously approved a rate increase effective, April 1. The District’s advanced minimum rate will increase $4 to a total of $57 per billing period and the water usage rates will increase 20 percent.
Users will see the new minimum rate on their April bills later this month. PCWD issues water bills bi-monthly. The new usage rate will be applied to water consumption during April and May and appear on the June bills.
In a well-attended public hearing, customers supported and opposed the District’s proposal.
Board President Michael Esnard opened the hearing with a discussion of the District and the need for the additional revenue. The District finished fiscal year 2014-15 with an operating deficit, although property tax receipts and lease payments eliminated the cash deficit. Nevertheless capital expenses were largely responsible for a declining cash reserve.
The two principal reasons for the needed increase, according to Esnard, are the increase in operating expenses such as electricity, lab costs and pipeline and the need to continue the investment in capital improvements. Not only have electricity costs risen in recent years, but the drought has lower the groundwater levels of District wells requiring more pumping to provide water.
During the past two years, PCWD has installed more than 9,000 feet of pipeline. The District staff has done the work at less cost than the use of a contractor, Esnard stressed. The value of this work is that the District does not have 70-year-old pipe, which might break or leak frequently, such as many bigger districts must constantly fix.
However in speaking against the rate increase, Pine Cove resident Norm Cassen attributed the increased costs to salary growth and perks for staff, such as health care and retirement benefits.
Since fiscal 2012, the PCWD budget for salaries and benefits has increased from $410,000 to $470,000 this year. Actual salary funding has increased a total of $22,000 in three years, less than 10 percent.
In addition to the $4 rate increase for the advanced minimum this year, a $3 increase is scheduled for 2016 and a $2 increase will go into effect in 2017. For 76 percent of the District’s customers, the average bill of $62 per billing period ($31 monthly) will increase $10.80, to $72.80 per billing period ($36.40 monthly) by the end of fiscal 2017, according to Esnard. That is less than $70 annually.
Esnard explained that the majority of the District’s water revenue is derived from the advanced minimum rather than the usage charges. “This because we want the customers to share the cost of the infrastructure [necessary to provide the water] and the general maintenance independent of the water use,” he said. “This is what makes it possible to turn on the faucet and get consistently good quality water.”
In addition, the advanced minimum funds reduced the District’s reliance on water usage revenue, which can be variable, especially during droughts when customers are encouraged to reduce consumption.
Cassen felt the rate increase would be burden on families with children and drive them out of the District. In his opinion, it was unfair to the full-time residents since three-quarters of the customers are second home and vacation renters.
Customer emails from part-time residents and another part-time resident at the meeting expressed concern about the minimum, since they use less water.
However other customers, such as Marlene Pierce, Jeff Smith and Tim Lange expressed appreciation for the District and complimented the service and water quality.
Cassen also objected to implementing the new rates immediately rather than some time in the future.
After closing the public comment period and holding a brief discussion, the board voted 5-0 to approve the increases effective April 1.
J.P. Crumrine can be reached at [email protected].