On Thursday, Sept. 12, the day after the Phillipsville Community Services District board of directors formally adopted a new tiered rate structure, chair Bonnie Mullaney told the Redwood Times that PCSD would rescind the changes for now and begin the process over.
Because of a misunderstanding of the state law that governs the process of changing services districts' rates, PCSD had incorrectly given Phillipsville landowners only 30 days to protest the new rates and fees.
On Thursday morning, the day following the board's unanimous vote to go forward with the proposed new rates, Mullaney learned that California Proposition 218 requires the services district to allow 45 days for protests to proposed rate or fee change.
"In a way it's a good thing. It gives us time to take a closer look at our numbers and more time to get public input," Mullaney said.
Believing that they knew the correct time frame, the PCSD board voted unanimously to approve the new rate structure, which creates rate tiers that charge more as water use increases, as well as increasing rates and fees, at a special meeting last Wednesday, Sept. 11.
After working for several months with their consultant, John Van Den Bergh of the nonprofit California Rural Water Association, the board finalized a proposal to change rates at their Aug. 7 meeting.
Under the proposed new rate structure, each water meter would be charged a base rate each month that does not include any water, plus a fixed rate per unit (100 cubic feet or approximately 748 gallons) of water used.
The per unit rates increase in tiers so that customers will pay more per unit as they use more water. Additionally, the base rate and each tier will increase incrementally for the next five years until the target rates are met.
The cost of installing a new meter on a currently unmetered property would be increased to $12,000. This connection fee was calculated by dividing the cost of the system, between $2.1-$2.2 million, by 60, the number of existing connections, to determine the value of a single connection to current customers.
This actually comes out to $36,000 per connection, Mullaney said, but the board considered that unreasonable, and came up with $12,000 as a more realistic figure.
In any case, the idea is to make certain that new connections pay their fair share of the value of the system so as not to place an unfair burden on existing customers.
Notices were mailed to property owners on Aug. 9, which gave landowners 30 days to protest the changes before a final hearing scheduled for last Wednesday, Sept. 11.
If the district receives written protests representing a simple majority of the number of parcels within the district, that is, 50 percent plus one, the proposal would automatically fail. (Under Prop. 218, one vote is assigned to each parcel so, for example, if a person owns three parcels, he or she gets three protest votes.)
At its regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 4, the board heard nearly two hours of public comment from 15 people. [See related story in our Sept. 10 issue.]
Seven members of the public attended the Sept. 11 meeting. All were opposed to the rate change and asked for more time to review the changes.
Twenty-six qualified protests were received, according to a count taken at the mid-point of Wednesday's meeting. This number fell short of the 47 protests, representing a majority of the 93 parcels within district boundaries, needed to halt the rate changes.
This gave the board the authority to go forward with the rate increases, and they voted unanimously to do so.
Board member Terry Wogan, who made the motion, added the provision that the board review the rates in a year to "see how we're doing" and assess the possibility of not stepping up to the next increase.
Base rates and water usage rates were set to begin with the October billing cycle, and fee increases were to become effective immediately.
But since the changes have been rescinded, current water rates and fees will remain in effect for now.
The board will hold a brief meeting this coming Thursday, Sept. 19, at 6 p.m. in the Phillipsville VFD fire hall to schedule a special meeting to begin the process of again reviewing their projected costs for operations and capital improvements, and to hear public comment.
When a new proposal is developed, the board will consider it for preliminary approval and then will open a 45-day protest period.