By Bernard G. Kuhn
Following is a letter that I recently wrote to the Ramona Municipal Water District manager and board president regarding the notice of proposed increases in water rates for RMWD customers.
I am criticizing RMWD in this matter because water rates are important to everyone. RMWD is as close to local government as Ramona gets, and it provides essential services that we all use every day.
The notice about increased water rates was poorly done, inadequate in information and is hardly worth the paper it is written on. It raises more questions than it answers, aside from what I have stated in my following letter.
Why does RMWD need to hire a consultant to do its analysis of expenses and proposed rates? General Manager David Barnum was the former finance manager for RMWD and is qualified to do it himself. Is RMWD afraid to do the work and take responsibility for it? Is the consultant meant to be the whipping boy?
I believe that the RMWD board should be involved in the analysis of costs, raising rates and in reviewing and approving notices to the public about them. Such notices are an important interface with the customers, whom the board represents.
The current board is holding the meeting to consider and approve the rate increases in the afternoon of June 25 when most customers cannot attend because they are at work. The board’s other meetings are also held in afternoons, contrary to previous practice. I believe this is a disservice to customers whom the board represents, and it suggests that the board does not want customers to be involved in their own business. Board meetings should be held in evenings so that customers can more easily attend.
Re: Proposed Increases in Water Rates and Fees
This is regarding the notice and explanation of the proposed increases in water rates and fees that I received in the mail from RMWD this past week. I vote against the increases because the notice does not explain or justify them. I will review the letter under the three main headings that are in the notice:
The proposed increase in “water rates” is a modest 1.97 percent, and I would not argue against it, though the notice does not say how much the Water Authority is increasing rates to RMWD.
Water Service Fees
These fees are called “System Charge” on our bills, and I don’t know why you called them something else in the notice. The proposed increase is 5.1 percent, but there is no explanation given at all. If these fees are related to RMWD operating and administrative overhead, you should say so and state how much your overhead has gone up, or explain otherwise.
There is no explanation or justification in your notice for the very large proposed increase of 41.5 percent in this surcharge. The amount of proposed increase is not even in the notice; I obtained it from your customer service representative on the phone.
The obvious other thing missing is: How much is SDGE increasing energy charges to RMWD? The surcharge should be directly related to actual Kw-Hr charges by SDGE, but the lack of such information and the large proposed increase suggests that you are using this surcharge to cover other unstated items.
The lack of explanation of the proposed increases indicates either carelessness by the staff who prepared the notice or shows the notice to be just an arrogant statement to RMWD customers.
I believe that RMWD customers deserve straightforward, understandable explanations of ever-increasing water charges and real justification of increases.
I suggest that you send a new and adequate notice and explanation letter to RMWD customers in plenty of time before the open meeting on June 25.
Bernard G. Kuhn
Bernard G. Kuhn is a Ramona resident and former Ramona water board director.