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An increase in revenue is expected to pay for a slight increase in the operating budget for the Rosamond Community Services District.

ROSAMOND — The Rosamond Community Services District is looking at a $8 million operating budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, an increase of a little more than $230,000 from the current year, or about 3%.

The district’s revenues are projected to reach $9 million in the coming year, an increase of 4% or just over $320,000. This is due primarily to the planned rate increase and more users in the district.

The district governing board held a workshop Friday on the budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins on July 1. It is expected the board will vote on the budget at its June 12 meeting.

The budget includes funding for three new positions, which contributed to the 11% increase in personnel costs, Finance Director Brad Rockabrand said.

These include two positions in the public works department and one in administration.

The public works personnel are needed in part to address preventative maintenance needs in the water and sewer systems.

“We’ve been operating lean for so long that some of those things have only gotten the minimum required preventative maintenance,” Public Works Director Brach Smith said.

The district is in a financial position now to bring on the additional staff to address these needs “so we don’t have a disaster down the road,” Board President Greg Wood said. “We can’t look at the past any more. We have to look at the future.”

The additional administrative position, a management analyst, will provide support for an overburdened administrative staff, Director of Administration Lizette Guerrero said.  

In addition, the budget increases spending on training from about $11,500 to $32,000, at the request of the board. This is expected to improve safety and efficiency.

“That’s money well-spent,” Wood said. “All of these things are going to pay dividends of making our employees safer.”

Rockabrand noted that such training and the hoped-for results of greater safety record can have financial benefits, as well, by reducing workers’ compensation and insurance costs.

While the operating budget is relatively straight forward, where the governing board will have to make some big decisions is in the capital improvements budget, which lists more than $14.4 million in projects.

“This capital budget is the largest that I have seen in my five years in the district,” Rockabrand said. “This one is much more of a wish list type.”

The board will direct which projects are taken on during this fiscal year and which will be held over for the future.

Funds for much of these projects have already been set aside in reserve funds, supported through depreciation in order to replace equipment as it wears out or funding that has been otherwise held over for these types of expenses.

One of the biggest questions facing the district is how to proceed with its wastewater treatment plant. The district is under an order from the Lahontan Re­gion­al Water Quality Control Board to reduce excess ni­­trates seeping into the ground­water from water treat­ed to a secondary level at the wastewater treat­ment plant. The treat­ed water is currently sent to evaporation ponds on-site.

One option considered to do this was to reline the evaporation ponds, at an estimated cost of $22 million, and a process that will have to be repeated in about 20 years. The cost increases to more than $25 million with moving forward with full tertiary treatment and still deal with the nitrate issue.

Instead, the district has brought on consultants  to design a project to take the secondary-treated ef­flu­ent, run it through the somewhat modified ter­tiary treatment equipment to remove nitrates, then percolate the resulting water into the ground.

The ultimate cost of this option is not yet certain, but is budgeted at $8.9 million.

However, the district recently learned that they will be required to completely remove the evaporation ponds and tainted soil.

The latest figure to make the changes to the plant and plan how to remove the ponds is $13.3 million, Smith said.

This does not include the actual removal of the ponds, which is likely another several million dollars, Wood said.

“This is something that got thrown in our laps,” he said. “Down the road, we’re going to have to make a decision on where we’re going to go.”

Financing options are being explored for this project, as decisions are made as to what direction it will ultimately take.

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