While San Lorenzo Valley Water District has been doing a great job keeping our water safe and available (check out Christina Wise’s article from last week for more information!), the water board has some big decisions to make soon. In order to bridge the gap between the board and the community, a new group, the SLVWD Friends, was formally created this past November to help facilitate collaboration between the two groups. I spoke with Jim Mosher, a retired attorney and member of Friends, about their upcoming goals for the district.
He first briefed me about their top three goals, “We’re focused on environmental protection, fire management (which is notably no longer fire prevention), and our most critical focus of the last month, helping low income rate payers make their payments.” Mosher then described the difficult position SLVWD is entering as of late, attempting to “keep water affordable for its community, despite rising rates, whilst maintaining and making essential improvements to infrastructure.” Before the coronavirus, a rate raise on July 1st seemed feasible, however, Board Director Fultz has recently proposed freezing the rate increase until after the crisis passes. While that would help low income rate payers, Friends hopes to find a solution that doesn’t further the infrastructure. Talk about a tall order!
Although this issue might seem easily solvable, by raising the rates of certain customers and maintaining the rates of others, the situation is further complicated by Proposition 218. Mosher quickly summarized the proposition for me, “It means that everyone must pay the same rate for the same benefits. If you give low income rate payers a break on rates, it might violate 218.” This is the more intricate problem the SLVWD Friends have been attempting to find a solution to for months.
After studies, research, and legal meetings, Friends has proposed a solution that will be mused over in the April 16th board meeting. Following several other districts in California, including Scotts Valley, Friends is proposing LIRA, a program for some property tax revenue (about 10%) would be distributed to low income rate payers to ease anywhere from 10-20 dollars off their monthly bill, while keeping the proposed rate increase (about 2-4 dollars) for the rest of rate payers. Mosher clarified how to know if you’re a low-income rate payer, “eligibility is decided by whether customers are on the PG and E Community Care Program, so we won’t need to expend staff to sort through low income applicants.”
Finally, Mosher and Friends want you to know that, “One of the key facts we hope water ratepayers will get from our work is that water rates are going to have to climb in order to meet the long term needs of the district. In this we are no different than other water districts, as the state water board report documents… A second key point is that the increased rates will create financial burdens on low income rate payers, particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Providing financial relief is critical, particularly since access to safe, affordable water has been declared a fundamental human right in California.”