Commissioners approve interim water rate |

Commissioners approve interim water rate

by Sheila Gardner

Beginning Dec. 1, the 17 customers of Sierra Country Estates water system can expect to pay $310.34 a month as an interim fixed base water rate.

That cost is expected to be in place through July 31 while the county takes control of the gated community’s failed water system from former owners Bill and Marsha Tomerlin.

Issues facing the water system include a small customer base, lack of customer metered data or historical knowledge of the water system, and limited and unreliable well pumpage records.

Commissioners approved the proposed rate Thursday, with a deadline of repaying a $100,000 interfund loan by Sept. 4, 2014.

Public Works Director Carl Ruschmeyer proposed three options to recover actual operating expenses in eight months.

He offered a cautious estimate that the operating expenses would total $84,411.

“We’ve only been out in the field for three weeks,” Ruschmeyer told commissioners. “This is an interim, short-term emergency rate. We are not presenting the full cost of services.

“I believe time is critical. We’re incurring costs and need to set a rate. If you send staff back to look at different options, I believe that will drive the rate up.”

He said the earliest the rate could go into effect is Dec. 1 because of publication requirements and board adoption procedures.

Options staff offered ranged from a $620.67 monthly flat rate to $217.24 a month with a higher rate for consumptive use than the plan commissioners adopted.

“I think this is a very lean budget,” Ruschmeyer said. “We’re learning out there every day. When we correct deficiencies, we will be able to reduce staff time.”

Ruschmeyer said the industry standard was to set the operating budget based on four years of data, but the Sierra Country Estates subdivision lacks those records.

“The interim operating expense budget does not conform to the county’s adopted financial policies for enterprise funds,” he said in his report to the board. “Specifically, there are no provisions for funding operations, system reinvestment or emergency services at this time,” he said.

Sierra Creek Estates resident Steven Leandro said water system users had “a very productive meeting” with Ruschmeyer and public works department staff a few weeks ago.

“We have a much better understanding,” he said. “We made really good progress, and there is a level of trust.”

Leandro urged the board to look at regionally integrating the system’s users to keep costs down.

Commissioners unanimously favored the adopted option as the best way to balance fairness and equality.

“A flat rate is unfair to people who don’t use much water,” said Commissioner Greg Lynn.

Over the next few weeks, notice of the new rate will be published and mailed to customers. Commissioners are scheduled to adopt the new rate Nov. 21 at their meeting in Stateline.

Commissioner Nancy McDermid, a former resident of Sierra Country Estates, recused herself from the board votes on the issue.