A trust we all share
Efforts to consolidate accounting for the county’s three Lake Tahoe water systems pretty much collapsed in a heap last week when country commissioners relented in their efforts.
There are real benefits to having those water systems together, but the years of neglect have ended up making the costs of bringing them up to the point where ratepayers can actually afford to maintain them prohibitive.
In 2010, county commissioners voted down a proposal to consolidate the accounting for all eight Douglas water systems, saying they didn’t think it was right to raise fees for some water users in order to fix others.
More than four years later, last week’s action echoed that sentiment.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting these water systems to pay their own way. The economic model for utilities is pretty simple. New growth pays for plant expansion while service fees pay for maintenance. A portion of those fees should be set aside for major repairs, whether by paying for them outright or to make payments on a loan.
But when growth was at a standstill in Carson Valley, as it still is at Lake Tahoe, there’s no cushion in the way of connection fees.
While not called on to make a profit, Douglas County does have shareholders it must answer to, the taxpayers.
Operating a utility is an important trust, and when the government is the operator, it’s a trust we all share. We believe the county is responsible for bringing all of its utilities to the point where their ratepayers can take over maintenance. That’s the only way this issue will be resolved for the future.