Douglas County water users to see spike in rates | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Douglas County water users to see spike in rates

by Jeff Munson, Tribune city editor

Water rates for more than 600 home owners north of Zephyr Cove will increase between 18 and 20 percent after Douglas County leaders unanimously approved a measure that will erase mounting debt paid on the water systems.

Cave Rock and Uppaway home owners who are used to paying $77 a month for water will pay $90.85 a month beginning July 1, while Skyland residents will pay $74.70 a month, up from $62.

The decision came after three months of public hearings involving county staff, a consulting group that studied the subdivisions water rates, residents and elected officials.

Nearly 100 residents attended Thursday’s Douglas County Commission, many asking leaders to spread the cost of the more than $2 million needed in improvements and debt relief throughout the county.

After three hours of testimony, commissioners accepted a consultant’s 10-year financial recommendation report to get the water systems back in the black. The board did choose to suspend some desired improvements to keep the rate hikes down.

“We could do a shell game (and disperse it countywide) or we could have it with additional property taxes but we would much rather do it up front,” said Commissioner Kelly Kite, adding that he is sympathetic to homeowners for such a rate hike on what are already the highest water rates in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

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Some homeowners suggested that because the county bought the water systems in the early 1990s, it should bite the bullet and suck up the costs of not only the needed improvements, but the 40 percent debt the water systems carry with it.

County Manager Dan Holler said that with every other water system the county has bought the debt had been paid off through higher rates and that the county wants to get out of the business of subsidizing the water systems with general fund money.

The idea, Holler said, is to make the water systems self-sufficient.

“I think you should recognize that there are essential services that government provides, like police protection. Water should be considered essential too,” said Skyland homeowner David Schultz. “If you (make) water services a basic service, you could spread it across the entire county.”

The financial report on the water systems presented by Financial Consult Solutions, recommended increased water rates of 10 percent annually over the next 10 years to pay off the 40 percent debt and to add improvements to the systems.

After the financial commitments are made, water rates would likely drop.

Jeff Munson can be reached at (530) 542-8012 or jmunson@tahoedailytribune.com

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