By Doug Wilsman
Are the lower water rates that Ramona farmers have received in the past been subsidized by the rest of the water customers? The president of the local water board says they are. Last week he convinced two other directors to vote with him to henceforth stop giving a certain discount to farmers.
Valley Center Water District, which still gives that same discount, evidently doesn’t think farmers have been subsidized, and neither do I. But I may have an unfair advantage — from July 1990 until December 2008 I attended every water board meeting —- gavel to gavel — except one. I observed the water board having to deal with huge long-term expenses that had been committed prior to 1990 that had not been undertaken at the behest of farmers.
In early 1990 the Ramona Municipal Water District (RMWD) issued bonds in the amount of $25 million. Half the money was needed to refinance the debt for the Ramona Dam and the other half was spent on miscellaneous water piping improvements to resolve low pressure problems caused by Country Estates. This latter half was approved by a prior vote of all the registered voters inside the water district boundaries (water customers or not).
The dam had been championed by the publisher of the Sentinel and two developers who had seats on the water board at the time. Proponents claimed that when Ramona’s population reached 30,000 there would be insufficient water without a dam. Every registered voter inside the water district’s boundaries (water customer or not) was sent a mail ballot by the registrar.
On June 2, 1981, the returns were counted showing that about 52 percent of ballots returned, or about 1,600, had voted to borrow $20 million to build a dam. At the time there were about 130 farms in the district that used RMWD water.
The annual debt service on the 1990 water bonds was scheduled to be $2.5 million annually for 20 years. Those annual payments were covered at the discretion of the water board with money RMWD was owed by the county tax collector annually. Had no debt service payments been required for those 20 years, the water board could have allocated some of that tax money to reduce all water rates. (It will be doing that starting in 2012.)
Doug Wilsman, a Ramona resident, is a former Ramona Municipal Water District director.