Public meetings are scheduled for January 20 and February 15
By Mary Andersen
The San Lorenzo Valley Water District has announced that its Board of Directors voted on December 7, 2023 to initiate a two month Proposition 218 process for a rate increase. According to the District, the new rate hike will address impacts from the August 2020 CZU Lightning Complex Fire, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2022/2023 winter storms along with overall increased costs of water delivery.
The proposed rate increase is the result of a comprehensive rate study initiated by the District in March 2023 and has included five public meetings to date. If approved, higher rates would go into effect in March 2024.
What is the Proposition 218 Process?
Proposition 218 is known as the “Right to Vote on Taxes Act.” It was passed by California voters in 1996 to ensure public participation and fairness. It establishes specific procedures and financial accountability requirements for local governments when imposing or increasing taxes, fees, and assessments, including water rate increases.
The Proposition 218 process for water rate increases generally involves the following:
- Proper notification mailed to affected property owners that includes the proposed amount, justification for the increase, and date(s) for public hearing.
- An opportunity for the public to express their opinion in person or in writing within 45 days of the notice.
- A clear protest process that provides for a majority of property owners (50% + 1) to stop implementation of the rate increase.
- Documentation that the increase is based on the cost of providing the water service and that the fees imposed cannot exceed the cost of providing the service.
Resources like the California State Water Resources Control Board’s “Proposition 218 Guide for Special Districts” and the Legislative Analyst’s Office report “Understanding Proposition 218” offer more in-depth information.
Ratepayers should know that the Proposition 218 process is a backward vote. Director Bob Fultz said in a recent column, “You don’t get to vote FOR the rate increase, you can only vote AGAINST. The process relies on public inattention because unless a 50%+1 majority votes No, the rate increase passes. And not voting has the same outcome as voting Yes. I agree that this is a total inversion of our system of government, but this process was approved by California voters in 1996 as a constitutional amendment.”
Be that as it may, the District is following the process as required by law. And this year, unlike in past years, public outreach has been robust and website navigation (slvwd.com) has been logical.
Where Will the Money Go?
In a statement, the District confirmed that ratepayer fees are 85% of total revenue. “This revenue funds both ongoing operating costs and major infrastructure improvements (essential maintenance, critical upgrades, and storm/fire repairs and replacements). Expenses over the past decade have been increasing faster than inflation due to rising cost of operations and maintenance and state-mandated expenses beyond the District’s control.”
The District is in the midst of a $13 million Capital Improvement Project to upgrade aging infrastructure, some of which was damaged by the CZU Fire. These improvements encompass the replacement of undersized pipelines, fire-hardening measures, the construction of larger water tanks, and the addition of fire hydrants, all intended to bolster water supply resilience and enhance firefighting capabilities.
The proposed increase spans a 5-year period and new rates depend on meter size, water usage, and whether the user is residential or commercial.
The District serves 7,500 connections in Boulder Creek, Brookdale, Ben Lomond, Felton, Zayante, and Quail Hollow in the San Lorenzo Valley and Whispering Pines and Manana Woods in Scotts Valley.
How to Participate
Proposition 218 notices should have been received by property owners and customers as of this writing. If you have not received a copy contact District staff at (831) 338-2153 or visit slvwd.com/prop218 where you’ll also find more information about the proposed rate increase, FAQs, financial plans, and detailed instructions for submitting your letter of protest.
Written protests must: 1. Identify the affected property by address, Assessor’s Parcel #, or customer account #, 2. Include the name and signature of the customer or property owner, and 3. Clearly state opposition to the rate increases.
Written and signed protests should be mailed to: San Lorenzo Valley Water District Water Rate Protest 13060 Highway 9 Boulder Creek, CA 95006 or emailed to Prop218@slvwd.com before the end of the Public Hearing on February 15, 2024.
Two more public meetings will be held to address public concerns:
Saturday, January 20, 2024 from 10 am to 12 pm
Highlands Park Senior Center, 8500 Hwy 9, Ben Lomond, CA 95005
Thursday, February 15, 2024 at 6:30 pm
San Lorenzo Valley Water District Conference Room, 12788 Hwy 9, Boulder Creek, CA 95006
Charts above are from SLVWD.com.
Mary Andersen is the co-publisher and co-editor of the San Lorenzo Valley Post. Reach Mary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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