Standby fee debate about charging equally
February 15, 2013
I and many others were extremely disappointed in commissioners’ Feb. 7 discussion and “action” taken regarding sewer availability fees. Unfortunately we had no opportunity to correct their comments nor express and enforce our plea for fairness and equitability as public comment was closed — we were left out of the discussion.As in previous discussions concerning this issue all we heard were excuses and irrelevant issues to distort and confuse the basic issue. Questions of the legality clouded the proposal while they had apparently not read the staff report that listed two examples of such fees being applied elsewhere in Nevada along with others without legal challenges — three pages of them. Furthermore, never have we heard discussions of legality when they are proposing other fees and fee increases. Their concerns were very subjective.The basic issue is “Should the current users be forced to pay for facilities constructed for others and the depreciation of those facilities of vacant lots?” Nothing more and nothing less. They must first answer that question and then work on the methodology to address the basic principle.They are obviously not interested in being fair and equitable by addressing the issue. There must be an hidden agenda which they have not disclosed.Furthermore, should such availability fees be collected, they must used to reduce that being charged the current users and nothing more. By putting those fees to some other use only double charges the customers. The board should not play games with the dollars as an excuse to collect more money. That would just make it doubly unjust and unfair.I have asked Carl Ruschmeyer to give me the components of my home’s sewer bill for capital improvements and for the depreciation set aside. I await his answer.Take those numbers and apply them per estimated dwelling unit to the vacant lots for which facilities were built to serve and add the administrative costs and set that as the availability fee. There shall be no credits given when the property is connected for that money has been spent.Just as there are carrying costs of loan P&I, taxes and maintenance on vacant properties, so should the costs for the availability of water and sewer services constructed for their benefit. It is a cost of owning property.Any monies derived over and above the billing costs must be used to reduce the cost to the current users. Any other use of the funds is merely a tax increase for the benefit of the utilities.The Seattle consultant’s comments that depreciation should not be a part of any availability fee is an incorrect accounting principle and should be disregarded as depreciation is, in fact, an actual cost of carrying the property. If the board is going to eliminate it from the availability fee then they must eliminate it from the other rate payers.Just as a developer must carry the cost of constructing sewer and water lines within his subdivision and all the other costs of developing and constructing his property – acquisition and construction loan P&I, real estate taxes, improvements, grading, paving, utility extensions, fire hydrants, lift stations, etc. – until it is sold, so should he carry the costs of the offsite sewer and water construction and all applicable depreciation charges.There should be no credits against connection fees. Does the County credit the current users with the money collected from current connection fees for their carrying the costs and depreciation before the vacant lot was connected? Hell will freeze over before we see that happen.I hope that in the very near future the commissioners will come to realize the fairness, equitable and simplicity of the process of establishing sewer and water standby fees for the benefit of the current users who just happen to also be your constituents.And, when is the board going to address the surcharges for those who are customers of lift stations as per Douglas County code? Why should those who do not need them be paying for them? Once again the board must be fair and equitable.Stuart Posselt is a Minden resident and former county commission candidate.