By Karen Brainard
Ramona Municipal Water District (RMWD) customers should be receiving notices in the mail with the district’s proposed “not-to-exceed” 8.4 percent treated water rate increase and 3.5 percent sewer rate increase for fiscal year 2012-2013.
The district will conduct a public rates hearing on June 26, when the board also plans to adopt the new budget. The meeting will be at 4:30 p.m. in Ramona Community Center, 434 Aqua Lane. New rates would go into effect July 1, said RMWD General Manger David Barnum.
RMWD Finance Manager Richard Hannasch stressed during his May 8 budget presentation to district directors that the rate increases are the “not-to-exceed rates” for the Proposition 218 letter, scheduled for a May 11 mailing. The Prop. 218 notice, required by state law, must inform customers of proposed not-to-exceed rates at least 45 days before the public hearing.
Hannasch said that staff will continue to try to lower, even by a small amount, the rate increase.
The treated water rate is proposed to increase from $3.86 per unit to $4.37. A unit of water is about 748 gallons.
General untreated water would increase 8.3 percent, from $3.31 to $3.77, less than the 22 percent jump untreated water customers faced last year.
The electrical rate that is tacked onto water charges for the pumping station is estimated to decrease from 77 cents a unit to 65 cents. The decrease, Barnum said, is due to declining water sales, which has led to less pumping.
The water service charge is proposed to increase 8.7 percent for all meter sizes.
With the increased costs, for an average household using 14 units of water every two months, the bimonthly bill would go up about $9.68, said Hannasch.
Projections show that agriculture customers in the Metropolitan Water District’s discount Interruptible Agricultural Water Program ( IAWP) or the San Diego County Water Authority’s Special Agriculture Water Rate (SAWR) program would see water rate increases between .5 to 3 percent.
Last year, ag customers participating in those programs were upset that they were not receiving a discount on CWA’s emergency storage. This year, Barnum said, CWA is requiring discounts be passed on to SAWR and IAWP customers, which will amount to 44 to 55 cents per unit. Barnum said RMWD has about 200 ag customers.
Agriculture customer Mike Dillon presented a water rate comparison for ag water rates in Ramona and nearby communities. While RMWD sells untreated water for ag users, other communities sell treated water at an average price of $1.50 less per unit, said Dillon. He told the Sentinel that rate increases last year contributed to the difference.
“We have a real challenge up here to keep agriculture alive,” he said.
According to Hannasch, the County Water Authority (CWA), Ramona’s sole water supplier, had released its rate projections on May 3, showing an overall increase of 9.7 percent for treated water and 9.6 percent for untreated water. Barnum said that increase is an average and can vary by member agency.
RMWD has no control over CWA’s factors, said Hannasch, and CWA projections show there will be “fairly significant increases in the cost of supply” in the next few years.
Hannasch noted that this is the district’s fourth year of belt tightening and the water district has reorganized to reduce labor costs by about $300,000 per year. The number of district employees is anticipated to be 49 for the new fiscal year, a drop from 72.5 positions in the early 1990s, he added.
Property tax revenues are forecasted at $4.58 million for fiscal year 2011-12, about $750,000 less than four years ago. Hannasch said property rax reductions will hang on for the next several years.
“Since the properties are assessed every time there’s a change in ownership and the annual adjustments can’t exceed 2 percent per year, then the depressed real estate market will result in depressed property tax revenues for the next several years,” he said.
Hannasch said future projects will impact water rates in coming years, mainly the relocation of a pipeline for the county’s San Vicente Road realignment project.
State law in 1973 allowed installation of RMWD lines within county right of way but with the caveat that the district would have to pay for relocation when road improvements were made, said Hannasch.
The estimate to relocate 6,040 feet of pipeline is $4 million. The district is estimating a debt service of about $500,000 per year to pay for that relocation, with water rate increases required to fund the debt service, according to district staff.
Barnum has said the water district will save money on items such as environmental documents, traffic control, and construction management by working under the county’s contract. The county is requiring the pipe relocation be started in July 2013.
At the May 8 meeting, the directors approved the Prop. 218 letter and directed staff to advertise the request for proposal for the pipeline relocation to consultants.