Water district continues rates discussion

Water district continues rates discussionBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Water District Board of Directors will hear a presentation on budget-based rate structures during its monthly meeting on Monday, Aug. 13. The district continues to weigh its options before implementing a scheduled three-percent rate increase in January.

Representatives from Stantec Consulting and Hildebrand Consulting jointly delivered a cost-of-service study presentation and proposed rates during the board’s July meeting. The proposed rate structure would reduce the ready-to-serve charge while increasing water costs across all tiers of use.

The information was discussed again during a July 31 workshop meeting where some concerns were raised. According to General Manager Don Zdeba, “There were issues with some of the methodologies that were used in the report … so we are actually taking a different approach.”

In addition to the presentation scheduled for Monday, the board will hear other alternatives during its September meeting.

Some directors also complained about the presenters’ “pushy” approach.

“I was a little uncomfortable with the presenter,” said Vice President Chuck Griffin, who took issue with a mention of approving the rates and issuing a Proposition 218 notice.

Griffin said he is in favor of a budget-based rate structure, something the consultants’ presentation didn’t include. Griffin argued that Tier 3 and 4 customers were paying disproportionately more than they should for water.

“They considered [a budget-based structure] and, in their judgment, felt that it wasn’t appropriate and wouldn’t work for the district,” said Zdeba. “They thought there was a sense of urgency to start implementing a rate structure.”

“I don’t feel it’s their position to say what’s right for the district,” said Griffin. “I think it’s up to the board.”

Budget-based water rate structures are figured on estimated water budgets based on parcel size, family size and other factors. The estimated costs are then included in the ready-to-serve charge so that districts can remain funded during prolonged periods of conservation.

“My understanding is it’s a lot more labor intensive to start, but costs less down the road,” said Director Don Cortichiato, who was also eager to hear more about budget-based rates.

But member of the public Stan Rajtora argued that the district should move away from high ready-to-serve charges and raise the costs of the water itself to encourage conservation.

“I have been concerned for several years about the high fixed rate,” said Rajtora. “It’s pushing the burden of support on the people who are trying to conserve and the low-income people. So who’s really paying the bills?”

Judie Decker also mentioned that a budget-based structure may be unnecessarily costly.

be unnecessarily costly.

“Things have changed considerably over the last 25 years, and this is still a very fluid population,” she said. “If you’re going to have to survey the population and find out how many are in families, you’re going to really have to take a look at the labor costs to do that.”

Rajtora also said that presentations need to be available to the board, and the public, before the meetings. Legal Counsel JimWorth said there was no legal obligation to release the reports to the public. But if a report is included in the board packet, it needs to be available three days before the meeting.

“In the name of transparency, it’s actually best to get the information out there so people can look at it,” said Rajtora. “Ninety percent of people aren’t going to look at it, but it may be good to have more eyes on it. It’s not a legal issue, it’s a transparency issue.”

Griffin also said it would be best to have reports in time to be reviewed by the district’s Finance Committee a week prior to the regular meeting.

Board President Ron Kicinski agreed that the drafts needed to be reviewed by the Finance Committee, but not necessarily released to the public. He said that since the draft wasn’t even approved by staff, members of the public would be “spinning their wheels” since drafts frequently change.

Stantec will again present the information on Monday. Water District meetings are at 6 p.m. on the second Monday of the month at 500 W. Ridgecrest Blvd. For more info, visit iwvwd.com.

Story First Published: 2018-08-10