$32 million district budget calls for 3% hike for water, 4.5% for sewer

RMWD Director Joe Zenovic, left, praises the district’s 2013-14  budget. Seated next to him is Board President Darrell Beck. Sentinel photos/Karen Brainard
RMWD Director Joe Zenovic, left, praises the district’s 2013-14 budget. Seated next to him is Board President Darrell Beck. Sentinel photos/Karen Brainard

By Karen Brainard

Praising the drafted $32 million budget because it funds operations and projects with less impact on customers than anticipated, Ramona Municipal Water District directors adopted the 2013-14 fiscal year document that includes rate increases of 3 percent for water and 4.5 percent for sewer.

The new rates went into effect July 1, the start of RMWD’s fiscal year.

“I think this is an excellent job by staff,”said Director Rex Schildhouse at the June 25 board meeting that included a public hearing.

“This is a remarkably good budget,” Director Joe Zenovic commented.

The treated water rate, when combined with the electrical charge to pump water to Ramona, will increase from $5.23 per unit to $5.39 per unit.

The electrical charge is jumping from 65 cents to 92 cents per unit, which RMWD attributes in part to San Diego Gas & Electric’s expected 13 percent rate hike in September.

For untreated water, the cost will go from $4.58 per unit to $4.73 per unit. A unit of water is about 748 gallons. The monthly water service fee, based on meter size, will increase 5 percent, from $26.45 to $27.80.

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Members of the public listen to the presentation on water and sewer rates. Sentinel photo/Karen Brainard

RMWD Finance Manager Richard Hannasch noted that San Diego County Water Authority, RMWD’s sole water supplier, had indicated earlier this year that its rate could rise 7 percent, but has since projected a 3.5 percent increase.

With Ramona’s 3 percent rate hike, Hannasch said a household using 14 units of water every two months would see a monthly increase of $2.47.

For sewer fees, customers of the Santa Maria Wastewater Reclamation Plant will pay $637.22 this year, which is $27.67 more than last year. San Vicente sewer customers will pay $605.30, reflecting an additional $26.28 this year.

After listening to a water rate increase protest from one customer, Zenovic said he did some “quick mental math” and the typical customer would see an increase of about 8 cents per day.

“How much does a cup of coffee cost?  Just to put it into perspective, the magnitude of the increase — 8 cents a day,” he said.

Water rates may be impacted more next year as RMWD funds the relocation of a water main for the county’s San Vicente Road Improvement Project. To move the water main is estimated to cost $5 million. Hannasch said that for the next fiscal year, RMWD will be able to fund the initial $500,000 of debt service for the pipeline relocation.

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RMWD General Manager David Barnum tells how board members waived medical benefits last year to reduce district costs. The directors receive a stipend of $100 per meeting, the minimum requirement by law, said Barnum. Sentinel photo/Karen Brainard

If that amount had to be funded by water rates, that alone would have been a 5 percent increase, he said.

“At least for one year there’s not going to be any impact on water ratepayers,” said Hannasch.

The half million dollars will come from the $4.7 million of projected property tax revenues, according to the district.

Hannasch said the county is estimating that construction will start for San Vicente Road improvements in April 2014, instead of this fall.

The finance manager also noted that the district will be able to fund the $1.9 million for the Poway Pump Station project through property tax revenues and without an impact to customers. The project calls for installing a natural gas line to the pump station as a secondary power source for emergency purposes and is hoped to eventually reduce pumping costs.

It was one of the projects that Board President Darrell Beck alluded to as ways the district is trying to reduce operating costs. Beck also mentioned the solar panel installation at the Santa Maria sewer plant.

Noting that RMWD does not have any control over the price of water, he said, “We are trying to cut costs where we can.”

Director George Foote said that, even though water use has declined among customers, the cost doesn’t decrease to maintain the system.

“Buying less water doesn’t mean we can reduce the cost of maintenance and distribution,” he said.

“No budget is going to make everybody happy unfortunately,” said Schildhouse, adding that budgets are compromises.

Of the approximately seven customers who attended the rates hearing, three spoke. According to RMWD, it received eight letters of protest.

The board approved the budget and rates by a 4-0 vote with Director Kit Kesinger absent.

   
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