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November 24, 2021

SLVWD customers, make sure to cast your vote

I’m a member of the San Lorenzo Valley Water District Board of Directors, but am speaking only for myself on this topic.  

By now, I hope everyone served by the SLVWD is aware of a proposed new charge on your water bill. This surcharge is intended to cover our District’s share of the cost to repair damage caused by last year’s CZU Lightning Complex wildfire. While 75% of the repair costs are covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), our share of the estimated $20 million is about $5 million. 

The District has decided to go directly to customers to make up this cost. This proposed surcharge is now in the Proposition 218 process, with notices being sent to customers as required by law for approval. But this is a very different process than normal elections. If you do not return a protest form by the Aug. 5 deadline, then that is the same as voting “Yes.” You must submit a form to vote “No.” Should this new surcharge pass, an increase of $9.67 per month will be added to the bills for customers with 5/8 inch and 3/4 inch meters—more for larger sized meters—for the next five years, bringing in $1 million per year to the district? This surcharge plus another rate increase taking place later this year will make the bill for a household using four units of water $95.65 per month. By comparison, that same four units cost $35.71 as of June 30, 2013, only eight years ago.

As the owners of this district, we have the authority to approve or reject the surcharge. The question is not about your support for fire recovery, which we all know is our collective responsibility, but how you think the district should manage its finances.

Other than grants or supplemental state funding, which are possible but not guaranteed, the board could choose to economize and use those savings to offset or reduce this proposed surcharge and/or establish better controls on our rate of growth in operating expenses. For example, a staff position was just added at a cost of $165,000 per year, but had we exercised restraint on this and found another $300,000 operating cost savings annually (out of an operating expense budget of $9 million), we could have cut the proposed surcharge almost in half.

Further, operating expenses have skyrocketed between 2013 to 2021, with an average compounded growth of about 6% a year, during a time when inflation was about 2% a year. Even considering that we added about 8% to the number of customers with the Lompico and Olympia consolidations, operating expenses are now more than $3.5 million a year more than in 2013, far outstripping those costs.

Fire repairs are proceeding. The district took advantage of favorable interest rates to secure a loan to cover our projected cash flow needs for the fire repairs plus a buffer should another disaster happen in the near future. This has been a very tough 18 months and it is the board’s responsibility to consider how to best control our costs and rates.

Please exercise your authority as an owner of this district. Should enough people protest to stop this surcharge (about 3,950 protests are required), then your board and the district would rework the budget and hopefully establish a policy for a lower rate of increase in operating expenses and a reduced surcharge in order to keep our rates stable and affordable.  The voting deadline is Aug. 5


Bob Fultz is a Boulder Creek resident. His views are his own, and not necessarily those of the Press Banner.

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