ROSAMOND — Community members expressed frustration, surprise and opposition during a special meeting conducted by the Rosamond Community Services District Board of Directors on Wednesday to discuss proposed water and sewer rate increases.
The Board of Directors voted to accept a rate study presented at the March 10 meeting. The study included proposed rate adjustments, including an overhaul of the tiered rate structure and the elimination of the three units of water included in the base service charge.
The proposed new water rate structure is changing from four usage tiers to three. Usage tier thresholds have been lowered because of new California state water conservation laws that impose financial penalties on water districts that fail to meet the 55 gallons per person per day usage targets.
Customer Carol Ruiz expressed opposition to the proposed rate adjustment, specifically concerning community members on a fixed or low income. Ruiz also expressed frustration with the billing policy enacted last year to move the base water and sewer rates to the tax rolls.
Kelly Cardon Jr. expressed frustration about the proposed rate adjustment, specifically pointing out its effect on those with fixed incomes, the possibility of further rate adjustments in five years, and the recent increase in the general manager’s salary.
Cardon encouraged the Board to vote against the rate adjustment.
Greg Williams of the Facebook group Rosamond Community Watchdog read an open letter to the Board of Directors in which he called for more transparency.
“It’s a fact of life the cost of water in the entire Antelope Valley is increasing due to the water adjudication court settlement. Of course, there will be an increase, but why not help out our community by reducing the impact of what’s going to hit us, like a freight train in 2024,” Williams wrote.
Val Benevidas expressed surprise about the proposed rate adjustment and reported not receiving a mailed notice. Benevidas asked the Board not to approve the proposed adjustment.
Carol Rose asked the Board of Directors to consider the timing of the proposed rate adjustment in relation to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rose suggested revisiting the proposed rate adjustment in six months to allow the community to recover from those impacts.
Board President Rick Webb called the special meeting to address some concerns about the proposed rate adjustments discussed in a previous regular Board meeting.
Webb reinforced his belief that the rate study presents a factual and accurate financial picture. He also clarified that the Board of Directors only voted to accept the rate study and that the community has the final say on the proposed rate adjustments.
“This is something that the community is going to vote on. We’re not voting on this as directors. We’re voting as community members,” Webb said. “The community needs to read the rate study. They need to look at it, and they are the ones who are going to vote on it.”
Webb agreed that financial matters are serious and that no one wants to have to pay more, but that is the reality of the current situation. He also expressed frustration for how much of the proposed rate adjustment was driven by new state legislation.
“We’re not looking to have extra money or to make more money,” Webb said. “We’re looking to give the people the safest water possible, the best treatment plant possible, and to keep the numbers where everyone can live with them.”
Director Greg Wood expressed multiple concerns he had with the proposed rate adjustments.
His first concern was with the level of information requested by the protest form letter mailed out by the District with the notice of the proposed rate adjustment. Specifically, he felt the language of the letter asking for the physical address “and/or” parcel number implies that providing a physical address is not enough to file a protest. He also expressed concern that most people may not know how to find their assessor parcel number.
“I think that could be a little cumbersome for most people,” Wood said.
Wood was also concerned about the option to physically return the protest letter during the public hearing, noting that the meeting will be virtual with no opportunity for physical attendance.
“We need to make sure that everyone who wants to protest the proposed rate increase is able to easily do so,” Wood said.
Although Wood believed the rate study was a good study and showed that the District does need to raise rates in order to remain solvent in the years to come, he felt the proposed rate adjustment was aggressive in its focus on achieving financial reserve goals and expressed support for meeting reserve goals at a slower pace with a more relaxed rate adjustment.
Director Ben Stewart expressed support for Mr. Wood’s proposal to relax the proposed rate adjustment by meeting financial reserve goals later. He also expressed a desire to clarify the need to discontinue the three-unit water allocation currently included on customer bills.
“A rate increase doesn’t go easy on me. I get 100% what you guys are saying,” Stewart said in response to the public who commented.
District accountant Brad Rockabrand said the three-unit water allocation could be legally challenged because customers who do not use the three units allocated are subsidizing those who are.
The rate study and proposed rate adjustment are based on the district’s operating costs, capital improvements, and service district debt.
“This rate study gives us what we need in order to do those things,” Rockabrand said.
Director Alfred Wallis expressed that he had frustrations with the billing policy change that placed base rates on the tax roll, similar to those expressed by Ruiz. However, his research into the matter convinced him of the need for the policy.
General Manager Steve Perez explained that rate studies are legally mandated every five years and that each rate study projects the district’s expected financial needs over those next five years. Maintaining financial reserves is a vital part of the rate study and should be viewed as a genuine cost of operation, despite not being a current year cash expense.
He also explained that a previous rate study took a less aggressive approach to fulfill financial reserve goals and that the effect of that decision is still being felt today.
“We’re still playing catch up from that study and rate adjustment, and any effort to repeat the action of lessening rate increases by not meeting reserve goals will only extend that out and put our district and community at financial risk,” Perez said.
He added: “The problem with that is one catastrophic failure could cost us a tremendous amount of money, money that would have to be borrowed. Borrowing and repaying that money with interest could make future rate adjustments even more aggressive.”
Perez supported removing the three-unit water allocation to protect the District from potential litigation and the expenses associated with it. He also agreed that the community needed to be able to drop off their protests during the upcoming public hearing and committed to having the lobby foyer open with a drop-box at that time.
The District will conduct a virtual public hearing on the proposed changes at 7 p.m. May 12.
To participate in the hearing join Zoom meeting https://zoom.us/join, or dial 669-900-9128. Use Meeting IDL 817 8241 9804 and Passcode 448069