Douglas County commissioners delayed a vote on increasing water and sewer rates a month, and will hold a workshop to discuss why they’re raising rates.
The delay doesn’t mean that rates proposed to go into effect on July 1 aren’t going to be approved, Commissioner Greg Lynn said.
“The county has run out of road to kick this can down,” he said.
Commissioners had approved increasing both water and sewer rates at their March 6 meeting. Thursday’s session was the required public hearing.
Representatives of the Wildhorse, Saratoga Springs and Skyline Ranch neighborhoods brought petitions with the signatures of residents of their neighborhoods.
Complicating the issue was the time it took for commissioners to get to the water rate increase. It was standing room only in the county courtroom where commissioners met starting at 1 p.m.
Many residents expressed their impatience with the wait when it came time for them to speak.
“You were elected to represent us and we are telling you we don’t want you to raise the rates,” Wildhorse resident Thelma Rogers said. “You’ve seen how many signatures we can get to oppose this. We can get those for a recall, too.”
Public Works Director Carl Ruschmeyer said the rates he presented at the March 6 meeting represented the floor and ceiling.
Thursday’s public hearing was held to approve a 3.25 percent increase starting July 1. A five-year rate proposal showed 3.25-percent increases through July 1, 2018.
Commissioner Barry Penzel said he felt the water rates were discriminatory.
“It’s discriminatory because one segment of the population doesn’t have the same subsidies as others,” Penzel said.
Several residents pointed out that Minden residents pay a lower rate than they do, and that they should have the same rates as the town.
“I would like to pay what they do in Minden and Gardnerville,” Wildhorse resident Walter Harrison told commissioners.
He said his bill is well above the annual average monthly rate of $63.25.
“My bill is $200-300,” he said. “I’m living on a fixed income.”
A representative of Saratoga Springs said 476 residents signed a petition opposing the water rate increase. One resident said they had 1,500 signatures on a petition.
While Minden and the Carson Valley Water System are connected, they are different water systems. Minden operates its own water company. The same is true of the Gardnerville Town Water Co., and the general improvement districts, which are autonomous from the county. The county’s water system serves 2,440 residents, mostly in the Johnson Lane and Genoa Lakes area.
Lynn suggested the workshop, saying it would be the best way to answer ratepayers questions and explain why the increase was necessary. Commission Chairman Doug Johnson said that if they were going to do a workshop for the water rate increase, they should do one for the sewer rate increase as well.
No date was set for the workshop.
The rate increase would cost the average water user outside of Jobs Peak Ranch $65.31 a month starting July 1, and go up each year until it reached $74.22 a month on July 1, 2018.
Residents said their bills often exceeded that average, which is calculated on an average of 16,000 gallons per month. Ruschmeyer said that use goes up in the summer and down in the winter.
The county is also planning to increase the flat rate for sewer by 3.25 percent each year until July 1, 2018.
Ratepayers would see their bill of $61.43 go up to $63.43 on July 1 and continue to increase until it reaches $72.08 on July 1, 2018.