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