The Garberville Water District Wants to Raise Rates and Fees; Plus Recap of Recent Meeting

faucet water drip

[Stock image by Nicole-Koehler via Wikimedia Commons]

Article by Kelley Lincoln:

The Garberville Sanitary District, often referred to as GSD, wants to raise revenue to meet its costs, and the only revenue resources available are rates and fees charged to the customers. Raising rates for water service is a bureaucratic process that takes up to two years making it difficult process for ratepayers to follow.

A key first step is called a rate study. With the help of a consulting non-profit called RCAC, Rural Community Assistance Corporation, the GSD is currently conducting a rate study to determine if the District’s costs warrant an increase in water rates.

Fees are somewhat easier to raise; and toward the goal of raising revenue, new service connection fees have been raised from $1,200.00 to $8,000.00. This was adopted in September of 2015. In March of this year, the board continued discussing a complicated ordinance mandating that all properties have a separate meter for every unit on the property, so the district can collect the base rate of $60.22 for each unit. This “multi-family ordinance” has been under revision since August of 2016.

This past Tuesday, the 25th of April, the GSD Board of Directors met for its regular monthly board meeting which was dominated by money matters. First, during the discussion of the District’s financial reports, Board Chair Linda Broderson noted that the District’s debit card is being used very frequently and for very small charges, many for only a dollar or two. Broderson told the General Manager she wanted that practice “to go by the wayside.”

Boardmember Richard Thompson questioned the check signing policy saying that he “noticed that Ralph signed a whole bunch of checks by himself including his own paycheck.” Chair Broderson said she had spoken to General Manager Ralph Emerson about this and had “strongly encouraged him to return to the two-signature requirement.” During the public meeting, Emerson said that he will get a co-signer for all future checks over $1000.00 though he noted his contract allows him to sign for up to $5000.00 without a co-signer.

Boardmember Doug Bryan expressed distress that the district’s new truck has been purchased on a contract that has 6.5% interest. Bryan said that Ford was offering 0% loans on vehicles during the time the contract was being negotiated. General Manger Ralph Emerson said that the purchase converted to a lease three days before the sale was final because the district doesn’t have enough vehicles to qualify for a fleet vehicle purchase. As a result, the district obtained a lease to own instead of a loan, according to Emerson, and that is what forced the high-interest rate. Emerson said that it was “a mistake of Ford Moter Credit.”

At the appointed time on the agenda, the General Manager reported on the progress of the rate study. Emerson reminded his Board that rates and fees are the only operating money the District has available. The rates and fees, he said, must pay for infrastructure and repairs, salaries, the office rental and expenses, the pumping fees and everything else. Emerson said he is “adamantly opposed” to raising costs for customers who use 250 gallons a day or less. Emerson proposes raising the rate for high summertime users of water. General Manager Ralph Emerson said some people use up to 2,000 gallons a day in the summer time and that doing so increases costs for the district.

No decisions were made, because it is much too soon in the process, but Emerson said the rate study suggests changing the first and second billing tiers so that the first tier includes 250 gallons a day, and so that the cost of paying for the first tier didn’t increase the final bill for people who kept their use below 250 gallons a day. Under this proposal, the second tier would become much more costly than it is currently. Emerson said he has spoken with the RCAC consultant, Richard Culp, and reports Culp says that it is justifiable to charge more on the second tier because of the expanded water system capacity that level of use demands.

In another recommendation from the rate study discussion, Emerson said he proposes increasing the reconnection fee for people who get their service turned off for non-payment from $25 up to $50 or $100. The board learned that in the last service month 35 customers had to have their water cut off because they hadnt paid their bill on time.

One of the costs of the GSD delivering water include the three year phase-in of a $3,500.00 per month raise for the General Manager at the adoption of his new contract in August of 2016. According to the annual auditor’s report on pages 54 through 56, which is included in the January 2017 board packet, is a draft letter to the GSD board from the auditor. The letter lists seven “material weaknesses” for the Board to consider. The seventh weakness the letter lists is “outside employment.’ The auditor’s letter says “…we discovered the General Manager holds several postions at three other districts. Since this District employs him full time, there should be some accountability for the time he spends at his outside employment.” Another concern it raised was “[d]uring the audit we noticed that the District’s credit was used to purchase a tool for another district. Although this tool was replaced, it is a major internal control concern.”

In other District business, General Manager Emerson told the GSD board that the Public Restroom Group and the Town Square Board have yet to meet together and agree on a design for the public restroom to be built at the town square. Emerson told the Board that he plans to arrange a meeting of the Public Restroom Group and the Town Square Board with the District so that a unified plan can be developed. The Public Restroom Group has a deadline in 2018 when their connection fee expires. Emerson says the Public Restroom Group has not yet submitted final plans for the project. The board seemed to agree the meeting was a good idea though it was an informal item.

Emerson says that the Southern Humboldt Community Park will need water treatment for its potable water needs, and he wants to open conversations with the Park’s Board to allow the GSD to treat the Park’s potable water. Emerson said he finds it “ridiculous that in a community this size when the park is in this district’s sphere of influence” that the GSD would not treat the water for the park. Emerson said the park formerly had a connection but that connection was removed when the Kimtu Line was built. Emerson said he wants to work with the Park and find a way for the district to treat the potable water for the Park. Emerson continued “If it’s going to be served by anyone in the future, it’s going to be served by us because they are in our sphere of influence. That’s what a sphere of influence is.” Emerson says nothing is happening at this time but wants to have the conversation with the Southern Humboldt Community Park Board. The General Manager received no feedback or direction from the Boardmembers on this item.

The GSD Board holds monthly public board meetings on the fourth Tuesday of each month. Meetings begin at 5 p.m. sharp. Board meetings are open to ratepayers and other members of the public.

  • Laytonville Rock
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24 comments

  • Thanks for posting this Kym. I haven’t been attending meetings but it is of great interest to me to stay up on the GBV water district issues.
    I hope this gets some discussion going.
    I pay my bill on time but I know many customers do not.

  • I have my own water well on my property .

  • Naturally the so-called “Community Park” will get potable water from GSD; and they won’t pay a dime for the infrastructure and will whatever it takes to not do a EIR. The rate-payer gets screwed again by development.

    Can’t keep growing and growing, folks. It’s called *cancer*. The planet and our lovely bioregion have limits but ya’ll blindly keep stumbling toward the $$$.

    What’s that saying?

    “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.”

    • What’s that saying

      “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” Denis Diderot (1713-1784)

    • Veterans friend

      I wonder why we are always cheerfully applauding big families. Overpopulation is at the root of so many of our problems on planet earth

    • Well it’s sometimes surprising what you can find online, in plain view.
      First of all, I came across an older article from The Humboldt Independent of
      September 2016:
      http://www.humboldtindie.com/local-news/2016/9/1/garberville-sanitary-district-bumps-pay-for-general-manager
      “The contract, which runs through Sept. 1, 2019, calls for a series of pay raises, beginning with an immediate hike from the $78,000 a year that Emerson has been making to $102,000. On July 1 of next year his annual salary will receive another boost — to $114,000. In July 2018 it is scheduled to get kicked up even higher — to $120,000 a year.

      Board member Gary Wellborn said on Monday that Emerson, who came to the district over two years ago after serving as operations manager at the Murphy’s Sanitary District in the Sierra Nevada foothills, has been due for a raise for some time.”

      There is one comment, also worth reading.

      Now we go to a great website Transparent California which posts the pay of public employees.
      Here’s the link for Murphys Sanitation District, Emerson’s previous employer:
      http://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/2012/murphys-sanitary-district-calaveras/
      This is for year 2012. There is a pull down so you can see the salaries paid for all the
      Murphys employees for 2013, 2014 & 2015.

      In 2012 Emerson was a Field Supervisor. Total pay $88,982

      in 2013 someone else was hired for Field Supervisor (Langley) ($71,303) and Emerson was downgraded to Operations Manager for a limited period of time (total pay with benefits, $13,679. There were eight full time employees including only one Grade One Operator (for a short period of time. There were two laborers, a General Manager and an Office Manager.

      In 2014 Langley’s job title was changed Operations Manager and his salary is now $81,588.
      In 2015 Langley is still Operations Manager and his salary is now $87,538
      In 2014 and 2015 there are five regular employees and two Administrative Asst (temp) There are two Certified Operators and one Office Manager/Finance position.
      It appears with Langley’s hire and Emerson’s departure that the office was reorganized and made more efficient and professional.

      (all salary quotes include overtime and benefits)

      There are no reports available for recent years for Garberville SD. (Last one was 2013 with seven employees) I looked at the GSD website and found very little. But I did find this (a funny):
      http://www.garbervillesd.org/staff-46c9b15
      “Staff

      GSD Staff is dedicated to serving our customers and providing the highest quality water possible”

      “Some text goes here”
      (left over from the original form they filled out….).

      Speaking of money…..was any one out there aware that GSD applied for Prop Z funds in the amount of $112,000 to repair or replace fire hydrants Feb 10th 2017?
      They didn’t make it to the final list….
      http://www.times-standard.com/article/NJ/20170331/NEWS/170339976

  • You weren’t delusional enough to believe they were going to lower the rates were you?

  • 250 gallons a day is a lot for a regular house hold, If you are using more than that you are probably growing, and should pay more than a regular house hold, 2000 gallons a day is just ridiculous.

  • Couple of observations from someone outside the district.

    1. If people don’t pay their bill because they are short of money, then charging any reconnection fee simply makes their position worse. Increasing the fee makes the effects all the more worse. If they don’t pay because they don’t get around to it, well.. but even so the fee shouldn’t be more than the cost.

    2. Existing multiple units on a single meter are not costing the district any more than one unit on that meter. Especially since the district charges more for water the more use your meter records. Requiring separate meters seems like simply looking for an excuse to get more money from the property owners without providing any additional service to them for the money.

    3. $3500 per month salary… increase? I shouldn’t have gone to law school. I should have become a bureaucrat. Too late now (sigh). That’s a raise of over $ 40,000 a year. How many hook ups are there? Divide $42,000 by that number to see what each property owner is paying for this raise. Now, I don’t know the man who is getting the money, what he’s making now, and what the position entails. Maybe you’re lucky to have him even at the increased price. Are you?

  • Tree Climbing Citizen

    Ralph E. has been a crucial improvement and asset to so hum’s water district. His personal attention to datail, and his professional and passionate involvement in the local community will be a cornerstone to southern Humboldt’s infastructure from here on out.
    Let’s change what is in the water folks, get this community back on it’s feet, and reclaim our towns from scum.

    • Tree Climbing Citizen; please elaborated…

      Here is what I sent to the GSD Board after I heard it on KMUD News (April 30, 2017):

      Dear GSD Board Chair, Directors and MGR,

      I wanted to make public comments concerning this new scheme your District MGR Ralph Emerson presented to you at your Board meeting on April 25, 2017

      It contradicts what GSD (testimony by Jennie Short) told the Supervisors on March 28, 2017, representing GSD (see attachment); this new scheme Ralph pitched your Board concerning the Park piping river water to the GSD treatment plant and then selling it back to the Park as treated water (from the River), will be using even more water from the river than what Jennie Short talked about in her public testimony and comments to the Supervisors on March 28, 2017. It makes no sense to me. If the Park treats their on-site “potable” spring water themselves and provides it to the public (under a Public Drinking Water permit), it would not have an adverse effect on GSD like it would using their “non-potable” river water (as stated in the Park EIR).

      The other thing that makes no sense; why would GSD come up with this plan? Why would GSD squander precious staff time to propose this new scheme without talking it over with the Park Board first? The Park Board has stated many times in their DEIR response to public and agency comments; “As discussed in Section 4.17, Utilities and Service Systems, of the DEIR, the project would have adequate supplies of potable water”. And if you read this section in their EIR, its only using the water on-site (the potable spring water), Kathryn Lobato has stated many times in public “they have no plans to use GSD for their water needs”. Piping river water over to GSD for treatment and being sold back to the Park seems to contradict with what Ralph proposed?

      When I heard Ralph give his pitch about this to the GSD Board on KMUD News, he sounded like he was repeating what someone had told him to say. Especially the part in his pitch when he said the Park had been a customer in the past. That sounds like it came from the Park Board, because GSD had already disproved all the myths concerning that with facts and they were not. Ralph also forgot to tell the GSD Board the Park was reimbursed over $2000 since GSD proved the Park was not a legal customer back in 2013. So why didn’t he mention that? Ralph’s justification to the GSD Board was because the Park was a past customer?

      I would also like to know why Jennie Short (speaking on behalf and representing GSD) would support an issue that GSD is opposed to, e.g. sports field irrigation of 2MM to 3MM gallons per month (June to October). You don’t get to have it both ways, since you’re trying to protect the GSD ratepayers and say you support sports fields the way Jennie Short stated; “I’m the Little League president for Blue Lake so I totally understand what Cinnamon is talking about for fields and definitely support the idea of building ball fields down there” (see attachment). Was Jennie Short speaking for herself or GSD?

      Jennie also made it seem (from her testimony) that the only option given by the “California Division of Drinking Water” for the Park was; “that they are going to have to create a new public water system”. That statement could not be further from the truth. The California Divisions of Drinking Water had two options; 1) Creation of a new on-site Public Water System and 2) Creation of a new water service connection using GSD water. But Jennie forgot to include option 2. She only wanted to talk about the on-site Public Water System, not the new connection using GSD water. Why is that?

      Thank you for your time and service,

      Ed Voice & Voice Family
      Former property owner and resident of Garberville/Redway 1961-2015

  • I can see the logic of separate hook-ups. I once rented a unit that was one of five or six…
    I wanted to plant a rose bush and discovered water…from the CSD. Fortunately there
    were separate meters so it was an easy task to turn off the water and when the line was repaired, turn the water back on.
    Had there been only one meter and we (the tenants) so scrupulous about doing things right we could have let it run and run and the property owner would have gotten a larger bill and not known why.
    I now live in a city and there are four units, including the owners. The owners have a washing machine, a dish washer and a daughter who takes up to half hour showers. Even during the drought. I know what I use and what other tenants use (pretty much) but when the bill is high we’re told to cut back. Then two of us were gone for a week or more and the bill stayed high. No more complaints from owner, daughter takes shorter showers.
    So separate meters make sense for the bill payer and the tenants, especially if the tiered rate structure applies as well.

    The general manager’s salary situation does seem a bit dodgy but I think some more research is called for…not for me, I’m not paying those bills, but for those who do have questions.

    • Charlie Butterworth

      There is an argument for separate hookups. Each tenant gets to see what they are using and paying for. The trouble with Ralph’s interpretation is that he considers existing buildings, already hooked up and decades long ratepayers, that have been divided into separate units to be new construction and therefore subject to the $8000 dollar new hookup fee. His argument is that the questionably additional units impact the infrastructure and should pay for ongoing maintenance etc. The other side says that nothing new is being added to the water system. The existing buildings have been paying for the District infrastructure and maintenance for many decades and will have no impact above and beyond what they already have. If the water use in these buildings heavily increased then yeah, they have a new impact but to allege that without showing some facts is pure speculation. So if you apply for a permit, Ralph will come and tell you that you need to pony up the money and if you don’t comply with his order in 30 days he will turn off the water to these ratepayers. It is purely an money grab by the water district from existing clients, maybe to pay for somebody’s really high salary! Coincidentally, in my case, when I contested the situation somebody filed zoning violation complaints with the planning department on the buildings in question. I would have to sue the District in order to find out who did that and I don’t plan on going down that route. But I do wonder who the code rat is!

  • Eureka rates have gone up as well. They have a pricing scale from residential to commercial, small, medium and large to accommodate those growing warehouses popping up everywhere

  • The next closest salary schedule is for a district east of us that pays a woman 110k per year to oversee 4600 meters—–Mr. Emerson oversees 450……. and will be banking 120k next year–Raises given to him by his hand picked board members put in place by Estelle Fennel. The board is loaded with 3 people who DO NOT live in the district that they make decisions for ! ( Rio Anderson-Gary Wellborn-Richard Thompson) Of course these people will vote for pay raises for Mr. Emerson, it will NOT effect them. They recently extended the amount of time these board members will serve. Ask them how it came about that three board members were appointed. I do not recall ads in the newspapers asking for board members, do you ? Something is seeming very corrupt in this little burg. I would urge the people paying these outrageous salaries to attend the monthly meetings. Chances are good that we are being ripped off. 120k a year to babysit 450 meters—-wow ! Could be the highest paid in the STATE per meter!!

  • Kelly, I think the audit spoken of in the KMUD story has been removed from the website. Since it has been released in the packet and it should be a public document anyway since it is the audit, would you please post it here?

    • Kelley Lincoln

      I am reluctant to post documents an agency has pulled out of public view. I recommend interested people go in and ask to see the audit.

      • Kelley, its a public document, why would you be “reluctant” to provide a public document that is named in your own reporting? Its protected under the first amendment. By the way, Thank you for your reporting. And Thank you Kym for posting it here…

      • As far as going to GSD and asking to inspect their public records, good luck! They will make you fill out a written request and wait, which is not legal, according to the California Public Records Act:

        “Public records shall be available for inspection during regular business hours. Members of the public are not required to give notice in order to inspect public records during normal working hours”

        Here are the GSD instructions for a Public Records Act Request:

        http://www.garbervillesd.org/public-request-for-documents

  • James, if your number of hookups is right, then the raise is approximately $100 per meter per year.

    Tree Climbing Citizen. “attention to datail” ? I know its unfair to judge him by your lack of spell check, but really???

  • Back in October 2013, I posted this letter to the editor in the Indie and Redwood Times, I guess its still applicable today. Thought I would share it again…

    “GSD wasted $40,000 of ratepayers money”

    Redwood Times
    Posted: 10/08/2013 02:07:05 PM PDT

    To the Editor

    I wanted to remind my neighboring property owners about what was publicly said by Jennie Short, speaking on behalf of the Garberville Sanitary District Board of Directors at the September 24th GSD board meeting, that was not included in the newspapers or KMUD news; how much money GSD has spent trying to justify the Southern Humboldt Community Park, included in the GSD district boundary to receive water.

    In front of the GSD board, when asked, Short said $40,000. The next time you get a water bill from GSD remember that. If you wonder why you got a rate increase in your water bill think about that. The next time you get a future rate increase in your water bill, remember that. GSD has now wasted $40,000 of ratepayers money and for what?

    Either way, it shows how much the GSD board thinks about its ratepayers and how much the GSD board thinks about the river. In both cases, it’s only a cash cow and a income stream, nothing else.

    Now ask yourself, how much of that $40,000 did the park board chip in? Not one red cent, the GSD board voted not to charge the park board a dime, because they were a community benefit, just like GSD. I guess that benefit is on the other foot, the ratepayers foot.

    Ed Voice and Voice Family
    Kelseyville

    http://www.redwoodtimes.com/article/ZZ/20131008/NEWS/131007746

  • After the blow-back from my first letter to the editor above, I submitted another one in December 2013 and its just as relevant today as back in 2013…

    “We have every right to protect our property”

    Redwood Times
    POSTED: 12/10/2013 11:04:43 AM PST

    To the Editor:
    Since you three gentlemen, John Rogers, Jay Peltz, and Jared Rossman, and appointed public servant, GSD board chair Dennis Bourassa, want to obscure the facts in your letters to the editor, let me help remind you about a couple things:

    Yes, our family has made public comments to federal, state, county and local agencies, concerning different proposed projects that have been required and solicited by those same agencies, either sent to us by US mail or what has been publicly noticed or posted in the newspaper and or emailed by either the proposed projects CEQA lead agency, discretionary agency or responsible agency. I can’t help that these projects have all been proposed near or next to our property and home at River Crest that in our opinion would adversely affect the environment in many different ways, i.e. South Fork Eel River or Prime Ag Farmland.

    In my opinion, from what you stated in your letter(s) to the editor, you are saying we have no right under the 1st Amendment to voice our opinion? Nor should it be our right to be proactive in protecting the natural environment in and around our home, property, county or state?

    In my humble opinion, you are using circular reasoning and logical fallacies to make your argument that are not supported by fact, but only intended to name call, harm and ostracize our longstanding family in this community (1961).

    We have every right to protect our property from any neighboring property owners and their proposed projects, either from subdivision, development plans, General Plan Amendments, rezoning or lot line adjustments that would adversely harm our property and or the South Fork Eel River, aquatic resources, wildlife habitats and the rezoning of prime ag soils and farmland aka Agriculture Exclusive zoning and land use for non-food production development.

    Let me also reiterate my letter to the editor from Oct. 8 is based in fact, not a fabrication, misrepresentation, prevarication or complete distortion of the facts. I did not make up the fact the Garberville Sanitary District (GSD) spent over $40,000 of ratepayer money at the request of the Southern Humboldt Community Park Board (SHCP), so they could be included in the GSD service boundary annexation and get a new water connection. This fact was stated many times and publicly recorded by GSD board members and staff at GSD board meetings, in public or documented by GSD in their meeting minutes, resolutions, board votes or public communications that can be viewed on the GSD web site.

    As of Oct. 22, 2013, GSD has publicly submitted a five-page letter in reply to the SHCP documenting no historical water service to the SHCP from either the Garberville Water Co. or GSD at its last GSD board meeting and I quote:

    “That the SHCP board now feels it is appropriate to assert that the Garberville Sanitary District is obligated to establish a new connection where no evidence of a separate historical connection exists is very disappointing.”

    You see, this is not the first time the SHCP board of directors has held the community hostage. Here is what GSD stated to the SHCP board in June 2013:

    “The GSD board is disappointed that the SHCP board feels it is necessary to hold the easement to PG&E hostage by attaching conditions to granting this easement that cannot be approved in conjunction with the drinking water project. This board has made numerous efforts, expended funds, delayed our annexation project, and provided significant support to the SHCP. Withholding this easement to PG&E so that they can install the electrical service line to the SWTP does not seem in keeping with the SHCP’s efforts to serve the best interests of the community.”

    Have a joyful and wonderful holiday season.
    Ed Voice & Voice Family
    Garberville

    http://www.redwoodtimes.com/article/ZZ/20131210/NEWS/131217556

  • You might want to read this Redwood Times article and then ask GSD how much their 2013 Annexation cost the ratepayers?

    http://www.redwoodtimes.com/article/ZZ/20131002/NEWS/131007748

    http://www.redwoodtimes.com/general-news/20120131/gsd-looks-at-proposed-annexation-entire-community-park-to-be-included

    Or ask them how much the new Water Treatment Plant cost and why did they build it down by the Community Park?

    http://www.ukiahdailyjournal.com/article/zz/20140627/NEWS/140627914

    http://www.redwoodtimes.com/article/NK/20150928/NEWS/150929935

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