Water rates in the Christmas Valley Domestic Water District could increase as much as 20%, and the Domestic Water District Board recently heard from the public about the proposed rate increase. A final decision will be made in a special meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 29, at 6 p.m.
Erica Anderson, manager and operator for the Christmas Valley Domestic Water Supply District, said at the beginning of the meeting that revenues have not been keeping in line with the increase in prices for supplies. She said the aging system is in need of constant maintenance and the Water District has to make yearly transfers to debt service fund of $47,000 on its debt from the last upgrade to the system in 2009-10.
Anderson said the Water District Board has not been able to move any money over to the reserve fund in the last fiscal year due to the increase in expenditures for repair costs. She said not having the ability to transfer money to reserves each year could potentially impact the ability to apply for grants, which often require matching funds, and for emergency repairs. She said that her goal is to transfer $50,000 each year to reserves, but the Water District has been struggling to even make smaller transfers and last year made no transfer.
“This trend is negative and showing a deficit and it is something that can’t continue and has to be rectified,” said Anderson.
She said the water rate increase will cover the current expenditures and costs, and will allow the Water District to begin transferring money to the reserve fund once more. The Water District is in the process of applying for a loan and grant from Business Oregon to make further upgrades to the system in the Water District.
The total amount is for $1.6 million, $500,000 of which would be a grant, and the rest would be a loan at a low rate. That would mean the Water District would need to spend an additional $45,000 on loan repayments, on top of the $47,000 it spends already. The loan would be for 30 years, just like the loan for the 2009-10 project.
“We are looking at having two rate increases — one which would be effective immediately and the other when we get the money from Business Oregon, which could be anywhere from 9-12 months,” said Anderson.
She said that even with the money, it would only improve a portion of the lines in the Water District. There are 38 miles of water lines the Water District maintains, and after the 2009-10 project and the project currently planned are finished, then 12 miles will have seen upgrades; with the remainder still needing to be repaired almost every day due to leaks.
A good sized crowd turned out for the water rate increase meeting to ask questions and provide comments; Anderson said it was excellent to have the community input. A couple of individuals asked if the revenues could increase faster due to growth occurring in the area.
“There is growth, but not everyone who is building on a lot out here is connecting to our services or connecting to our services year-round, which is denying us having consistent revenue,” said Anderson.
A long time resident, Ben Widenoja, said that the current service provided by the Water District is great and that it is ludicrous the bill people pay currently is so low. He said in many communities the water bill is higher than Christmas Valley for the same type of services and he said he would gladly pay more to help keep the system running.
Some people raised the idea of putting a general obligation bond on the ballot to raise funds through property tax revenue to make improvements to the system. Anderson said the idea of a general obligation bond for the 2009-10 project was considered, but ultimately The Water District went the revenue bond route once they were given the disadvantaged community status which set in the low interest rate on revenue bonds. She said it was a combination of factors, one of which was unjust taxation interest paid on the general obligation bonds are closer to 4.5% compared to 1.25% for revenue generating bonds.
One issue was metering individuals’ water use and charging a meter rate. Anderson said that she does not have the manpower to read the meters each month and keep up with the leaks in the system. She said it could take multiple days, even a couple of weeks, for the employees to read the meters each month which would lead to a potential water issue in the system.
She noted that the Oregon Water Resources Department is becoming more and more stringent on water districts to meter water usage, and Anderson said there is an excellent chance the Water District will need to move from flat rate billing to going entirely meter reading in about 13 months. She said the possibility exists of installing smart meters, which can be read without having to find them, but it really comes down to money to install meters
“Reading meters requires additional staff, which requires additional money. These type of things take money and these mandates are coming from the State,” said Anderson.
Currently, the Water District Board is considering raising the residential customer monthly rate to $65.28 per month, a 20% increase from the current rate. This would not solve the reserve capacity requirements in its entirety, but would help. There could be additional increases based on what is required by Business Oregon to be kept in reserve.
Anderson and Lake County Commissioner James Williams urged all residents of the Water District to fill out the income survey coming from Portland State University for the Community Development Block Grant, which could provide the Water District $2.5 million in grant money to improve the system
. A total of 81% of the people living within the Water District have to respond, and 51% be of low or moderate income, or else the Water District will not qualify for the grant money. Any households that do not respond are automatically counted as over income, and that stands for five years.
For more information call 541-576-2090.