County approves lowered water rates
Beleaguered customers of Douglas County’s pricey water companies applauded and shook hands with commissioners Thursday after their rates were slashed in the consolidation of four companies.
Some 100 people packed commission chambers to hear the county’s newest proposal after four years of debate over making rates equitable and affordable for 2,400 property owners in the east and west valley, Sheridan Acres and Jobs Peak.
After hearing from a dozen customers – most overwhelmingly in support of the new rates – commissioners voted 5-0 on a two-year rate schedule, known as option two which consolidates four systems into one.
For customers of the tiny Jobs Peak and Sheridan Acres systems, rates dropped hundreds of dollars a month. The drop was not as drastic for east and west valley customers.
The option adopted also eliminates the need for a $188,500 annual subsidy from the county’s general fund for the Jobs Peak and Sheridan Acres customers.
East Valley resident Stuart Posselt, who has been an aggressive opponent against consolidation, objected because the advance commission packet did not include a PowerPoint presentation made during the meeting or answer questions he had about the subsidy.
He said the board should wait until litigation involving the Jobs Peak water system is resolved.
Posselt also claimed that the East Valley customers were against the proposal. When questioned by Chairman Lee Bonner, Posselt admitted he had nothing in writing, but hadn’t heard any support.
That was refuted by Bob Hardash who told the board he owned four parcels, three of them in East Valley.
“This Hatfield and McCoy attitude has to stop. I would like to applaud the board for taking on the issue. I am a strong supporter for option No. 2. Water is a luxury and necessity to all of us,” he said. “Consolidation would improve efficiency, help manage the county budget and eliminate the subsidy.”
Dan Barden, who lives in Sheridan Acres where the average monthly bill was $187.31 a month, thanked the board for their efforts.
With the new rates, the average Sheridan Acres bill will be $57.53 effective July 1, and $63.29 a month the next year.
“Thank you all for taking a second look,” he said. “And I want to thank East Valley.”
John Robertson, president of the Jobs Peak Homeowners Association, said his neighbors supported the second option.
“We are one county. The liabilities and the assets of the water system belong to everybody,” he said
“What a ride this has been,” said Commissioner Doug Johnson. “All along, staff has followed board direction. Everybody has a dog in this fight. Seventy percent of Douglas County residents are not on the county water system. We have to make decisions for the entire county.”
Commissioner Mike Olson joined in support of the adopted rates.
“Option two makes the best sense,” he said. “I appreciate the leadership of (consultant) FCS to find an alternative option that lets us cover the debt and not have water rates that are higher than groceries,” Olson said.
Commissioners directed staff to post a public notice about the rates, and prepare a resolution to return to the board for action April 5. The new rates would go into effect July 1.
As proposed, the option provides lower water rates for all customers on the county’s Valley water systems and provide the greatest overall cost benefit to all customers and residents.
The option also has three of the four systems paying the same rate of $57.53 a month with Jobs Peak at $79.39 the first year and $63.28 the second year, with Jobs Peak at $87.33 in fiscal year 2014.
That compares with the current interim rates which project the fiscal year 2013 rates from $63.31 for East Valley to $581.31 for Jobs Peak.
“Our ultimate goal has been to stabilize and, if possible, lower water rates with no new debt,” said Carl Ruschmeyer, county public work director.
He said water consumption had dropped 14 percent in the past year which he credited to a wet summer and the fact that Jobs Peak and Sheridan Acres’ systems were metered.