Water district prepares for rate hikes

Ramona Municipal Water District (RMWD) expects at least a 5 percent increase in the cost of treated water as the result of action by the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) last week, David Barnum,  chief financial officer for the Ramona district, told water board members at their April 14 budget workshop.

“Today, we received a press release issued from the MWD,” RMWD General Manager Ralph McIntosh said at the board’s third in a series of budget workshops. “The district declared we are going into mandatory water conservation effective July 1, 2009.”

The press release stated that a 13 percent reduction of water supply deliveries from MWD to San Diego County Water Authority (CWA) will become effective on July 1. This reduction is in response to continuing drought conditions, regulatory restrictions on water supplies from Northern California, and an increase in the cost of water from suppliers.

“At this time, the plan is that members of the agency will receive an allocated amount of water,” said McIntosh. “We do not know at this point what that allocation will be.”

What is known is that with the reduced supply of water and restricted use, Ramona will face an increase in water rates with a decrease in the supply of the commodity.

Revenues in the district are generated from water rates and property taxes.

RMWD purchases water from CWA and MWD. The proposed water supply cut from MWD is the first since 1992, when the agency last curtailed water deliveries.

At this time, MWD must rely on more costly water sources to help meet demands.

The theme of this year’s RMWD budget is “Managing District Resources in Difficult Financial Times.” An ad hoc committee made up of RMWD President Jim Robinson, Vice President Bryan Wadlington, and former RMWD Director Doug Wilsman was formed to bring forward a budget that was as lean as possible.

According to Barnum, the ad hoc committee was able to substantially trim operating expenses, leave new positions unfilled, limit capital purchases and capital expenses, and reduce operating maintenance. Even with these cuts, RMWD faces with the inevitable water rate increases.

The initial increase of 5 percent for treated water is really only a drop in the bucket. RMWD is also faced with increases in the following areas: Untreated Water, Special Project Construction, Water System Charge Per Meter and Sewer Operations for both Santa Maria and San Vicente sewer treatment plants.

In November 1996, Proposition 218 amended the California Constitution and required public agencies to provide a written notice by mail to owners of each parcel upon which a fee or charge will be imposed. A public hearing must not be held less than 45 days after the mailing of the notice. A draft of the current RMWD Prop. 218 letter, scheduled to be completed by April 27, was reviewed by the board members for potential revisions.

All Prop. 218 letters must contain information to the public regarding the amount of fee or charge proposed, the reason for the fee or charge, and a date, time, and location for a public hearing. In May 2008, Prop. 218 letters were sent to 10,415 residents and two formal protests were received.

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