Guest Column Viewpoint Letter

There’s a rumor afloat that all San Lorenzo Valley Water District Board Directors support a rate increase. As one of those Directors, and speaking only for myself, let me set the record straight.  

I oppose the rate increase proposal for the following reasons:

  • It unfairly punishes the very people that responded to the District’s call for conservation. Low water users will see the highest percentage increase.
  • The mailer provides misleading information, implying that the “average” or “typical” customer uses 6 units of water. The reality is that 59% of the total bills last year were 4 units or less—the very people punished with the highest increases. Only 7% of the bills last year were 6 units—which is the opposite of “typical.”
  • There is no commitment from the Board on how the additional money will be spent. Our District urgently needs to allocate money to infrastructure, deferred maintenance, reserves and pension obligations—but only 1/3 of the incremental revenue from the last two rate increases was spent on infrastructure and reserves.

I have previously advised our community to only consider a rate increase if it addressed the following goals:

  • An explanation of why the cost to deliver water increased by 4X inflation over 10 years—and a justification for why those costs should go even higher.
  • An approved budget matching the duration of the proposed rate increase—in this case five years—so the community can see how the Board plans to spend the money.
  • At least 2/3 of the additional money be applied to infrastructure, deferred maintenance, reserves and pension obligations.
  • That the financial burden of the proposed rate increase be fairly allocated across the community.

The proposed rate increase doesn’t address any of these common-sense points.

We are, collectively, stewards of the District for future generations. Our responsibility is to leave this District in better shape than we found it.

Worse, our property values may be affected by the Board’s inattention to infrastructure, maintenance, reserves and unfunded pensions since those liabilities will likely factor into how much people are willing to pay for housing.

We cannot count on supplemental grants, which are unreliable, highly competitive and can become scarce during tough economic periods. When State and Federal funds flex as budgets tighten, grants will likely be applied to disadvantaged communities only.

Put simply, the Board is counting on the community not paying attention to this rate increase proposal. They are saying “Trust us.” Unfortunately, previous Boards said the same thing in 2013 and 2017, and the result is our precious steel storage tanks continue to deteriorate due to lack of maintenance. Our unfunded pension liability, under reasonable return assumptions, is the highest it has been in years.

Please send an email to [email protected] if you would like to join me on a Zoom meeting to discuss. And remember to submit your protest ballot by Feb. 15 to send a clear message to the Board to do better. Thank you.

Bob Fultz is a member of the San Lorenzo Valley Water District Board of Directors.

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