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Residents sound off about water prices

About 20 people attended the first meeting of the Valley Center Municipal Water District board in the New Year to protest the increase in water rates or to ask questions about them.

After a hearing on January 5 in which about ten ratepayers expressed their opinions, the board adopted a rate increase of 4.6% on domestic (i.e. residential) rates and 1.1% on ag rates. They also voted to increase the fixed service charge on meters by 4.6%. The rate changes become effective in February.

“I’d like to welcome you people. You’d be surprised how often there is no one out there,” said Board President Gary Broomell, gazing out benignly on the audience.

Before the hearing on the rates the results of last November’s “election” was announced, with directors Broomell, Merle Aleshire and Randy Haskell confirmed in their seats. All three ran unopposed.

Broomell, who has been president of the board for many years, was reelected to that position, with Bob Polito elected as vice president.

Public Hearing

Letters had been mailed to all district ratepayers, informing them of the proposed changes to the rates 45 days prior to the hearing. The board received seven letters of protest from the public.

Director Aleshire asked staff to explain the difference in domestic and ag rates. Gen. Mgr. Gary Arant explained that growers (i.e. ag users) don’t participate in some projects of the San Diego County Water Authority, such as emergency storage or the purchase of surplus water from the Imperial Valley. During an imposed water shortage they take a reduction before residential users do, and don’t get the benefit of stored water or supplemental water from the Imperial Valley, or from desalinated water.

Resident Derek Davis told the board he opposed any increase in water prices. “Farmers bear the brunt of price increases because they use the most water. The water district needs to keep its ag customers. If it loses ag customers the loss will not be made back from residential customers, leading to lay offs. It will be a downward spiral. At some point the district will hit the wall and not make up enough money to support itself,” he said.

Jack Fox, a resident of the I-15 area said he’s a senior on a fixed income. “You say it’s pennies but it all adds up. We shouldn’t raise water rates on existing residents in order to provide water for Lilac Hills Ranch. To put out your hands and welcome developers who are going to use water that you don’t have.”

Another speaker, William Mueller, objected to the increase in farm rates being lower than that of residential rates. He said this is unfair.

Sue Foley declared, “I feel that in VC we are getting ripped off.” She objected to the fixed meter charges. “Never mind a rate increase. I feel that as a customer we are getting totally ripped off. What, are the pipes made of gold?”

Will Willus had a somewhat different view. “I know that your pay increase is necessary. I may be the last grower in town because I will not give up. I’m not having a problem. For those who can’t make it, they need to learn how to do it better.”

Walter Dean Ward accused the general manager of being overpaid and said, “These are farmers and they can’t possibly make the money to pay you this. I don’t know what you are doing with all this money. Valley Center is part of a tombstone of dead trees. People here in Valley Center are not millionaires. You must have fun spending that money.”

Aleshire pointed out that the great majority of cost increases are pass throughs of rates charged by the suppliers of the district, the Metropolitan Water District and San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA). “We control approximately 20%, which includes ops and maintenance.”

Arant added, “The difference between the ag increase and domestic reflects the fact that ag customers are in a special program. There is a forty to fifty dollar differential. Ag customers do not participate in the cost of emergency storage project, desalination or water from the Imperial Valley, which caused those rates to go up. That is why ag is less. The increase from the Water Authority is across all customers, but different from each district.”

He noted that in the case of Lilac Hills Ranch that it would use net less water than the farming that is conducted there now. “Our assessment is that there will be no net impact on water.” VCMWD is required to do such an assessment on any proposed large development, he said.

Polito pointed out that both he and Broomell farm. “You can drive out on Vesper and see piles of dead trees. I farm thirty acres. You wouldn’t want to see my water bill every month. I feel you pain. It’s not like we are pushing out water rates because we need to and want to. We try to scrimp and save to run this district the most efficient way we can. We know what you people are going through. We as farmers are trying to hang in there. We’ve cut down trees. You downsize and downsize until there is no point to do it anymore.”

Arant added, “I’m a collection agency for the Metropolitan and SDG&E.”

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