On Wednesday evening, May 16, the Idyllwild Water District conference room filled with customers telling the Board of Directors their thoughts about the proposed water-rate increase. Here, Vic Sirkin, former director, presents his ideas for reducing costs, which he felt may alleviate the need for rate increases.
Photo by JP Crumrine

District agrees to workshop on May 30

A large group of customers came to the Idyllwild Water District board meeting last week. The proposed water-rate restructuring and rate increase were the targets of their comments.

Having received the notice of a public hearing on June 20 for the board to consider adopting the higher rates, these customers were not convinced of the need for more revenue. In general, they expressed dissatisfaction with the board’s lack of justification for more money.

Several people spoke out with concerns and frustrations, but the first speaker, Vic Sirkin, former IWD director, opened the evening with his own five-page poster-board presentation.

He urged the board to delay the hearing and to look at several options to reduce costs before deciding to seek more revenue from Idyllwild residents.

He suggested four areas to evaluate for savings. First, he noted that the Pine Cove Water District installs pipeline for about one-third of the cost of IWD’s latest pipeline project.

During the winter board meetings, Interim General Manager Jack Hoagland acknowledged the high cost of IWD’s latest effort and promised to reduce future costs from $300 per foot to about $200. PCWD’s cost, using its own staff, is much closer to $100 per linear foot.

Sirkin estimated that IWD may need to replace nearly 18,000 feet of pipeline over the next decade. Reducing the costs to the neighborhood of PCWD’s costs would save millions for IWD, he argued. Further, with this much pipe to replace and recent costs, the district’s reserves, which are in the millions of dollars, could be eliminated within the decade.

He also recommended that, when contractors are needed, their proposals receive a “fine-tooth review” in order to avoid unnecessary costs or use of expensive materials.

“A page-by-page review [of bids] could save a lot of money,” he suggested.

He also urged the board to seek more grants, from either the federal or state water agencies, to help defray costs.

Finally, he encouraged the board to initiate an overture with Fern Valley and Pine Cove water districts, who both have recently raised water rates, to consider consolidation of the water districts. Ultimately, this effort would save several hundred thousand dollars for all three communities.

“Consolidation would not occur in six months, might take two to five years, but the dialogue should begin,” he urged.

“First, try to mitigate the [district’s] costs. Cancel the [June] hearing and re-establish what we really need,” he advised the board.

David Lilieholm, a local home designer, expressed dismay at the size of the rate increase compared to inflation and other costs.

“I estimated my costs would increase 60 percent over the five years,” he said. “That’s about 10 percent annually, which is about four to five times the rate of inflation. I need some understanding of how the district got into this situation. You should justify that increase before asking for money.”

He also asked the board to postpone the scheduled rate hearing to give more customers time to understand how the proposal would affect them.

The board remained implacable following all of the public comments. However, later in the meeting, directors David Hunt and Steve Kunkle acknowledged some of the comments and pocketbook concerns.

Hunt wanted to hold the hearing as scheduled on June 20, but to defer the vote on the rate increases for at least a month to allow more time. Kunkle recommended the board hold another workshop to help educate the public about the future capital needs of the district. His colleagues agreed with this suggestion.

An IWD workshop on the proposal will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 30. A specific agenda has not been developed, according to Hoagland. But he is considering inviting NBS, the consulting firm who did the rate-increase analysis, to the meeting.

In other business, the board acknowledged the resignation of former Director Catherine Dearing. Individuals interested in joining the board should send letters of interest to the district. President Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly said the replacement would be chosen at the June 20 meeting.

The board did hold a public hearing on the annual stand-by fees and adopted a resolution to impose the $30 per-parcel or acre. This has been the fee for many years.

In water business, Hoagland reported that the level of Foster Lake was now less than 3 feet, but he felt the district supplies were in good condition and has no intention of moving to any water-emergency stage in the near future.

IWD production in April was slightly more than 7 million gallons, but nearly 400,000 gallons less than April 2017. For the first four months of 2018, production has been almost 24.5 million gallons, which is 210,000 gallons more than the first four months of last year and the most water consumed during this period since 2013.