Room at the Hilton gets pricier
It was inevitable, as Hilton Creek Community Services District Board Chair Steve Shipley repeatedly advised Crowley Lake customers. Earlier this month, a letter went out advising them of a Public Hearing scheduled for Aug. 10 to tackle, once and for all, adoption of proposed sewer service fee hikes.
Shipley and the Board began talking about the fee increases in 2008, but, despite a considerable amount of criticism by a vocal minority of users, were firm in their intent to hold off enacting any hike as long as possible. As of this past January, the hike was expected to be taken up sometime in the spring, but was delayed pending lengthy employee contract negotiations.
According to the letter, the proposed increase is the same as the one proposed in 2008: a phased, 15 percent annual increase across three years (45 percent total), that will result in an approximate $5 per month increase for a single-family residence.
The revised sewer service charges are part of an effort to combat challenges to the District’s operating budget, which has been running at a deficit for several years, and which the Board has covered using property tax revenues.
That option, however, has been essentially taken off the table by the State of California, which is now preparing to “borrow” from special districts to help paper over its own budget shortfalls.
Shipley’s letter said that the hike is now necessary to provide “maintenance, supplies and equipment, as well as financial reserves necessary to maintain service within the District’s existing boundaries.”
A public hearing was held in December 2008 proposing a sewer service charge increase. After testimony from members of the public, the Board agreed to take additional time to address the concerns raised and to review the District’s budget to determine any cost savings available before considering adoption of any increase. Shipley noted that since that decision, the Board has sought to reduce expenses wherever possible. Continuing negotiations with staff members have lowered workforce overhead, and trimmed employee benefit expenses by 34 percent. In addition, HCSD changed auditing firms, which has yielded $2,000 annual savings, and paid off a treatment plant expansion loan.
Though the system is running smoothly at the moment, there are currently no reserves to cover major replacement costs or repairs to the current system, some of which will be needed within the next few years.
Shipley also pointed out that there have been unavoidable expense increases, such as 30 percent more for utilities. And, the State Water Resources Control Board recently required HCSD to have a second certified employee at an approximate annual cost of $7,500, thus as Shipley noted, “an increase in the sewer service charges cannot be avoided.”
“New home construction in the area that was anticipated to support the sewer system has not occurred, and will not in the foreseeable future. The funding to operate the sewer system falls on the current developed property owners in the District boundaries.”
What are the alternatives? A special assessment can be proposed and attached to property tax bills to cover the amount needed to provide for reserves for replacement and major repairs. The District can also file for bankruptcy, effectively placing decisions on how to continue providing service (which Shipley said carries a public safety component as well) in a judge’s hands.
The hearing will start at 5 p.m. on Aug. 10 in the Crowley Lake Community Center. Information or questions: contact Marianne O’Connor, Board Secretary, at 760.934.6299 or e-mail email@example.com.