Last week, Idyllwild Water District directors voted to continue the $30 standby fee on vacant parcels within the district. Directors Steve Kunkle and June Rockwell voted against the motion, which passed 3-2, with the support of Board President Jim Billman, John Cook and Mike Freitas.

On Wednesday, Aug. 3, the board continued its public hearing on the fee from its regular meeting July 20. At that heavily attended meeting, questions were raised about the legality of the hearing, since IWD only used a legal notice in the paper to inform constituents and those affected by the tax.

After that meeting, the district obtained a legal opinion, which said only new or increased fees required special notifications The continuation of an existing standby fee could proceed. Consequently, the district scheduled continuing the hearing originally for July 28. That was canceled when it didn’t meet quorum and Aug. 3 was the new date.

When he opened the hearing, Board Vice President Cook stated that the $30 standby fee had been in place for many years, then added that the district has been receiving lots of objections about why the fee is unfair to owners of undeveloped property.

He offered three options and asked the audience (five people) for their opinions.

Continuing the standby fee, no assessment or earmarking the fee revenue for new wells were his three options.

The public comments questioned the district’s current water situation. Marge Muir, who has property in IWD, stated that imposing the fee without the opportunity to obtain water to build was discriminatory.

“At the last meeting, we did hear some comments that it is not fair to pay the standby fee if you cannot get a meter. If they’re paying for transmission lines, why can’t you then get water?” Kunkle asked.

“The purpose of the fee is to maintain the infrastructure. So why are only eight of 24 wells operating?” Muir asked, regarding the district’s efforts to maintain and supply adequate water.

In response, General Manager Tom Lynch said he had just finished rehabilitating two wells, whose net new production added 40 gallons per minute to the water supply.

Kunkle asked if this meant IWD now had enough water for some new customers. “I’d still like to see which wells in the district are ready to use,” he added.

“We should know how much water we can produce,” he continued. “How can we say no new water meters if we don’t know how much water is used and available?”

Cook agreed and asked Lynch for a fuller discussion at a future meeting. “What specifically do we know and put in a report. With or without a drought, come up with what we need,” he suggested.

Eventually, Billman moved to approve the current standby fee. Freitas seconded the motion, which passed 3-2.