County expands water rate study
November 8, 2011
After listening to beleaguered Foothill area water users last week, Douglas County commissioners directed staff to expand their study of configured water systems.
The board asked for information on a single Valley water system and a dual Valley water system. The studies are to break down rates with and without subsidies.
Thursday’s directive was the latest in more than three years of debate over how to resolve the various rates paid by the county’s 3,500 customers in Johnson Lane, East Valley, Genoa, Sheridan Acres, Sunrise Estates and Jobs Peak in Carson Valley. At Lake Tahoe, the county operates systems in Zephyr Cove, Cave Rock and Skyland.
“Our goal is to stabilize and, where possible, lower water rates,” said Public Works Director Carl Ruschmeyer.
The county considered consolidation into one system a year ago, but abandoned the plan over strenuous objections of ratepayers whose monthly bills would increase in an effort to balance the system.
The difference with Thursday’s discussion is that the Lake portion will not be included.
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“I do not want to go through the circus we went through a year ago,” said Commission Chairman Mike Olson.
About 40 East Valley water users attended Thursday’s meeting to seek support for lower rates.
Resident Dan Barden said he’d been told if the Valley water systems were consolidated, each county customer would pay $60 a month.
That compared to the $300-$400 it costs each month for what he described as “judicious” use of water through a drip system.
“It’s the same level as a second mortgage might cost,” Barden said.
Commissioner Doug Johnson said it was unlikely a unified rate could ever be as low as $60 per month.
“If we were going to have $60 vs. $160, everybody would be happy. If that were true, I’d vote for it in a heartbeat,” Johnson said.
Sheridan Acres resident Tom Dunkelman said 60-80 neighbors had been attending meetings to discuss their rates.
“This is a big deal for our community. For most of us, our life savings are tied into our homes. Our homes are worthless. Nobody will buy them with the water bills we have,” he said.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about whose water bill goes up, whose water bill goes down, or whose stays the same. It’s about fair and equitable rates,” Dunkelman said.
Margaret Pross asked the board to include information about the subsidies.
“If we go to one Valley fund, will there be subsidies, and how much?” she asked.
She wanted to know if the 70 percent of taxpayers not on the county’s systems would be paying the subsidies.
“I hope you can accomplish this without the subsidy,” Pross said.
Virginia Starrett objected to use of “subsidy” as it applied to Jobs Peak.
“The entity responsible for the mess we’re in is the county itself. Commissioners approved the takeover of a faulty system which needs millions of dollars in repairs. Just pay the repairs out of the general fund. The costs should have never been put on anyone but the developer,” Starrett said.
Officials pointed out the new rate studies would incur expenses by hiring consultants.
“The audience needs to be reminded the rates must be legally defensible. That involves a third party and there is a cost involved,” said Commissioner Greg Lynn.
“It’s going to be a tough decision,” Olson said. “I don’t see it coming back where everybody pays 60 bucks.”
“I’m as tired of this as you are,” said Carol Bennis, a 40-year resident of Sheridan Acres. “We have tried over the years to be fair. I’m worried about young families who have moved in to our subdivision. Over the years I’ve lived here, we’ve subsidized all kinds of things. Douglas County, when we moved here, was more of a community. We need to get back to that.”