Customers of the Zephyr Water Utility District are split on what to think about a Douglas County Board of Commissioners decision Thursday to move forward with a plan that raises water rates in the system by nearly 50 percent.
On one hand, it appears ZWUD customers will only have to pay their own existing debt instead of a consolidated debt with two other Tahoe water systems: Skyland and Cave Rock-Uppaway.
However, they will likely have to pay a rate that consolidates operations and maintenance expenses with the other two water systems, resulting in a $117.09 monthly water bill in 2015 instead of their current monthly rate of $79.95. A final decision on the rate plan is expected in June or July.
“It seems they’re moving down the trail of keeping the O and M consolidated,” said Dick Barnard, a ZWUD customer and CPA, “and that’s my concern.”
Barnard said he wanted commissioners to pursue a stand-alone rate, which involves all three water systems being responsible for their own existing debt and operations and maintenance costs.
Under that scenario, ZWUD would pay $93.99 per month in 2015, but the monthly rate for Cave Rock would be $195.78 per month instead of the proposed $151.17 per month when operations and maintenance expenses are consolidated.
“My concern is (Cave Rock) is an expensive area to serve,” Barnard said, “and by lumping all the O and M together, the Skyland and ZWUD people are effectively subsidizing the Cave Rock people.”
County Commissioner Lee Bonner said Friday he felt the big issue for ZWUD and Skyland customers was keeping existing and future debt separate among the three water systems.
The new direction, approved unanimously by the board Thursday, would in fact keep existing debt separate. And the idea of keeping future debt separate has been supported in the past.
“I thought it was the right decision because we want to consolidate and we want to move toward a full consolidation,” Bonner said.
Scott Smith, a ZWUD customer and board member on the Marla Bay Protective Association, said he liked the decision by commissioners because it meant ZWUD won’t need to take on Cave Rock’s significantly higher existing debt and hopefully the future debt.
“We know there’s debt. We know there’s future debt. But we don’t want to have to pay everyone else’s,” he said, adding. “We won two out of three.”
Many people — including Smith’s wife, Piper — spoke up about the proposed rate changes at the Douglas County board meeting Thursday, where commissioners applauded the audience for being civil in the process.
A commission vote was recently delayed on increasing monthly water and sewer rates in Carson Valley after representatives of the Wildhorse, Saratoga Springs and Skyline Ranch communities brought petitions to the board.
That public hearing was held to approve a series of annual rate increases through July 1, 2018.