Idyllwild Water District Director Vic Sirkin shared with his colleagues five pages of questions regarding recent board action and pending decisions Monday morning.
Among the issues Sirkin hopes the board will re-consider or consider with more legal input or analysis are the new rate structure, the long-time policy of “pre-paid water,” staffing issues and not just the waste water treatment manager, but the eventual hiring of a permanent general manager, and the cost and priority of capital-improvement projects.
In his letter, Sirkin wrote, “As a new board, there is much to learn and evaluate yet there always seems to be a rush to action. It is disquieting. Access to legal explanations and opinions will provide the needed education this board requires for future planning …”
Sirkin is very unsatisfied with the new water-rate structure and particularly with its continuation of the concept of “pre-paid water.” First, he argues that ultimately the current structure favors commercial users over residential, who pay more per gallon for usage of more than 3,500 gallons.
Besides a personal concern over the equity of the policy, he felt the public comments during the meeting raised some questions with merit about the recently approved water-rate structure. He urged the board to obtain a written opinion from its legal counsel regarding compliance with Proposition 218.
Later in the meeting, General Manager Jack Hoagland said he had an email stating that opinion and would share it with the directors.
The current policy gives residential customers about 2,250 gallons monthly at no cost. But as usage increases, the per-gallon cost for residential customers exceeds the cost for commercial customers.
Sirkin raised several concerns and questions about the “free or pre-paid” water policy that does not encourage conservation. Secondly, for customers such as single people and part-time customers, they seldom consume the pre-paid amount. Consequently, they subsidize the other users.
The district should establish a reasonable and fair base rate to cover the basic operating expenses and then charge all customers the same amount for each unit of water consumed, Sirkin opined.
“Charging for water actually used will promote conservation and many will see a smaller bill,” he wrote.
He also argued that changing the water policy would make Idyllwild’s fee policy similar to the other two local districts — Fern Valley and Pine Cove.
An evaluation of pipelines and a long-term plan for maintenance, repair and replacement is necessary, he urged his colleagues.
The need to decide whether to use a Riverside County grant for replacing 3,000 feet of pipe has raised these questions. The grant is for $155,000. When the previous board applied for it, the estimated total project cost was about $450,000. Recently, Hoagland has told the board that the total project cost may approach $600,000 to $675,000, without provisions for oversight and change orders.
Since this is about a fifth or a quarter of the district’s reserves, Sirkin is asking what the total districtwide need and cost is for pipeline repair and replacement.
He concluded with this advice. “To promote absolute transparency and fairness to all, we need to be in a position of knowledge … not only the knowledge but also the reasoning behind all critical decisions.
“All of us are smarter than one of us, … Now we need to pause, think together and take more time — if necessary — to make decisions that will work for us in the long term.”