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More water problems

Sheila Gardner

Water bills are going up nearly 50 percent effective Dec. 1 for the customers of the Airport-Mountain View water systems as the county works to raise $600,000 to pay off debt financing.

The rate hike is the first in a series of three for the system’s 1,300 customers which will see monthly rates raised a total of 72.8 percent before leveling off in July 2000.

The county took over the struggling water system from private developers and borrowed $3 million to bring the utility up to standards and plan for expansion.

As part of the new rates, water connection fees for new customers will be doubled to $2,312 for a 3/4-inch pipe.

More than 60 customers of the systems attended a 2-1/2 public hearing on Oct. 2 , unanimous in their unhappiness with the rate increase which follows hikes in sewer bills as well.

“We haven’t even lived here a year and our sewer rates have gone up three times,” said customer Marlene Day. “This is worse than living in California. Pretty soon, there will be the choice between paying for water bills or buying groceries.”

Day expressed concern that developers were able to abandon the troubled water system to the county, leaving the customers facing a huge debt.

“My feeling is if the dam breaks in Gardnerville, everybody has to shoulder the responsibility. I feel like in this part of the county it’s, ‘You’re on your own, sister,'” Day said.

“We’re either family in this county and shoulder the responsibility together or we have just cut the lifeline.”

Commissioner Don Miner reminded the audience that customers of some of the systems at Lake Tahoe pay as high as $100 per month for utilities.

Commissioner Kelly Kite, whose district includes the Airport-Mountain View customers, said no one was happy with the rate hike, but it was imperative that the county work toward making the water system self-sufficient.

“Up until this new rate study, the county was subsidizing the water system,” he said. “No one likes any option. I don’t like it either.

“There is no easy answer. If we go with one rate structure, we penalize those who elect to conserve. If we go to a zero base, we penalize the high end users. I don’t want to penalize anybody.”

While the county can tweak the rates, enough income must be earned to retire the debt service which is $45,818 for 1997-98 and leaps to $224,335 in 1998-99. Taxpayers will continue to subsidize the water systems’ administrative costs through the general fund.

Under the new rate structure, residential customers with a 3/4-inch line will pay a $13 fixed charge plus a volume charge of 75 cents per thousand gallons from zero to 8,000 gallons; $1.24 per thousand gallons from 8,000 to 24,000 gallons and $1.65 per thousand gallons for usage of more than 24,000 gallons.

The same structure applies to commercial customers who start with a monthly fixed base of $15.25.

Under the current rate, a Mountain View customer with a 3/4-inch line pays a $15 monthly charge and $1 per thousand gallons in excess of 10,000 gallons per month.

“The new rates are based on usage,” said County Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen. “If you use, you pay. If you don’t use, you don’t pay.”