Heavy opposition to a proposed water rate increase has materialized from a group of San Lorenzo Valley Water District customers who are unhappy with the district’s plans to spend much of the money on a new administrative campus.
The group, which is calling itself SLV Watchdogs, said they have attended every public board meeting and committee meeting the district has held for the past year in an effort to understand its plans for a rate increase and how it spends its money.
What they have learned is not to their liking.
“Our objective is to get rate payers aware of the issues,” said Mark Messimer, one of the leads of the group.
The group formed when several district employees were surveying and taking soil samples in a private neighborhood in preparation for an intertie to the Lompico County Water District, which has since been nixed.
“We were told (by district employees) that ‘we have the right to be here, and you can’t stop us,’” Messimer said. “They could have handled relations with us in a more civilized way.”
The experience left a sour taste in their mouths and they decided to form a group to learn about the district’s activities.
Messimer, a public relations and marketing professional, has teamed up with neighbors Stephen, a licensed engineer, and Suellene Petersen, a retired accountant, to form a core group of ten residents who actively oppose SLV Water District’s administrative campus project based on the spending plan of the district.
They have launched a website with their findings and analysis, www.slvwd.co, as well as a Facebook page under the name San Lorenzo Valley Watchdogs.
What does the group oppose?
The group says they do not oppose a rate increase, per se, but do oppose the current increase for many reasons.
“We want (an) increase that’s sane and rational and within the best interests of the rate payers,” Suellene Petersen said.
They say the current 5-year increase, which includes compounding increases each year from 2013 to 2018 and will increase the districts annual revenue from about $5 million to $8 million by 2018, is far too much for the district.
“There is no compelling justification for this,” Messimer said.
The district says the rate increase will adequately fund operations, maintenance, capital replacement expenses and debt obligations and pay for the construction of an administrative campus in downtown Boulder Creek.
Stephen Petersen said the group does not oppose an increase to pay for the district’s operational needs, but said a feasibility study and return on investment analysis should be done before the campus, and its additional $6 million price tag are taken on by ratepayers.
The groups ultimate goal?
“SLV Water District should pull back and reproduce a viable, transparent and realistic proposed rate increase,” Messimer said. “Financial shenanigans and pet projects are not a viable option.”
The group also hopes ratepayers will mail written and signed protest letters to the district that include the writer’s address and/or assessor’s parcel number by the rate increase hearing at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 24.