Vulnerable residents are being hit hard by higher water fees

Vulnerable residents are being hit hard by higher water feesBy LAURA QUEZADA

News Review Staff Writer

“You’ve heard of the straw that broke the camel’s back?” asks Carrie Ernst of the Grace Lutheran Church Care Center. She feels that way about the Groundwater Fees added to water bills. When the pandemic began, this animal lover added a Pet Corner to the Care Center’s food, hygiene, and clothing supply given to people in need through the church’s outreach program.

“I saw the cost of food rise, the food hoarding, the old people couldn’t go out during the pandemic because they might get sick. So I started having dog food here for them. That was when this started, during the pandemic.”

Ernst says, “I was going to close it down, because it can be costly at times, but then the water fees started coming in. I had a senior come in here crying, it was so sad. He was so upset because his mom had died and he was taking care of her cat. He said, ‘I don’t know what I would do without you because I would feel bad if I couldn’t feed my mom’s cat. She’s deceased and it is my responsibility.’” She adds, “The water bills have really hit these seniors hard. That $30 or $40 at the end of the month that may be nothing to you and me, is everything to them. So the program is remaining open because the seniors, disabled, and veterans need it.”

“Whatever it takes,” is what Ernst says about funding the pet food. “I do recycling, I do everything I can to maintain this. I am sure my kid is embarrassed, ‘Don’t go to the gas station with mom.’ I’m not rich. So to pay for this I go to all the trash cans in the gas stations, I always ask first, I take the recycling. I walk along the roads finding recycling. The money goes right to the pet food. It adds up. That’s how I pay for it.”

Ernst is a strong woman. She once owned a roofing company, worked in healthcare, construction and trucking. Then in 2017 four aneurysms burst in her brain. Her dogs were key to her healing and gave her the compassion and empathy for folks struggling with expenses. Her dog, Princess Yoda, was allowed to visit her at Bella Sera, a skilled nursing facility. She says, “It not only made my day, but all the patients loved her. She wears clothes, dances and is the happiest thing. I went home, I couldn’t walk very well. I remember my four dogs sitting on my bed. I had no company, My family had to work. I remember thinking, ‘I have to learn to walk again so I can give my dogs water.’ I also had to sell a lot of my stuff, because medical bills were expensive. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have to choose between feeding myself and my dogs. I guarantee I would feed my dogs first.”

“I would like to make a plea to the water authorities to consider reducing the fees for seniors and the disabled,” says Ernst. “It is really hard on them and most of these seniors are not even going to live long enough to see the benefits of these fees that they are forced to pay. It is really hurting our seniors and our disabled community members. So please consider reducing the fees for them or giving them a sliding fee schedule.”

Ernst hasn’t publicly asked for help before; she expresses gratitude, “I thank Almost Eden Rescue for their dog food contributions and to Tracy Cooper for her donations and for making people aware of the program. Before that it was paid for by me. 99% of this is paid for by me, that’s why I collect cans.”

How the community can help: People can drop off pet food and checks written to Grace Lutheran Church (with People and Pets in the memo field), Monday – Thursday between 9am-4pm and 9am-12 noon on Fridays at the church office. On Wednesdays and Fridays, pet food, checks and recyclables can be dropped off at the Care Center right next to the church, from 9am-11am.

Pictured: Carrie Ernst

Story First Published: 2021-08-20