Douglas residents turn out for water consolidation hearing
June 4, 2010
GARDNERVILLE, Nev. – Customers of the east and west Valley water utilities predicted parched lawns, failed businesses and the ouster of commissioners if the county goes through with a proposed consolidation of water systems that will result in rate hikes.
Commissioners, nearing the end of a two-year process to consolidate the eight systems, heard Thursday from about a dozen residents opposed to the phased-in hikes.
Meeting at East Fork Fire Station No. 1, the two-hour hearing attracted about 70 people, most opposed to the hikes set to go into effect July 1.
Consultant Karyn Johnson made a half-hour presentation on the changes to the study which commissioners asked for in March.
The most significant impact seemed to be the reduction in Valley systems bills by $17 a month from $108 to $91.
That still wasn’t enough for east Valley residents whose rates are set to increase from $54 a month to $91 by 2014.
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Nancy Henker, a commercial and industrial landlord, said the county was wholly responsible for its problems.
Henker said she purchased property in October 2008 and her first water bill in January 2009 was $86. The next month, she said the bill was $1,200.
“I was told, ‘Oh, that was a mistake. We didn’t read the meter for a year.'”
Henker said she settled the bill for $433.
“This building is not new. It was built in 1998. It’s not at the end of a dirt road or down a canyon. If the county can’t find it, how many others has this happened to?” she said.
“Carson Valley Business Park is now a ghost town. If this passes, the water rates will go through the roof. This will double or triple our bill. You’re going to end up with more vacant properties,” Henker said.
East Valley resident Walter Harrison said he wanted to know what happened to “majority rules.”
“This is going to turn east and west Valley into a desert. We can’t afford it. It’s just like our illustrious president shoving health care down our throats. I promise all you commissioners and our president, come election time, majority will rule,” he said.
Stu Sibley, a four-year resident of the Wildhorse subdivision, claimed the county couldn’t even maintain a road in the neighborhood, and wanted to know why he should trust them to consolidate the water systems.
“I just don’t have a lot of faith in Douglas County to operate a water system,” Sibley said.
The consolidation received support from Carson City Manager Larry Werner, an east Valley water system user and former county public works director.
“This goes back 15 years,” Werner said. “There were concerns about each water system supporting their infrastructure. The only way as an area to solve some of our water quality issues is to work with a larger customer base.”
Werner said he could understand residents’ dismay with the proposed rate structure.
He said Carson City implemented at 30 percent increase across-the-board on Thursday.
Other residents questioned the timing or asked why the county didn’t consolidate the Lake systems and leave the Valley alone.
County Manager T. Michael Brown said the county had been working on the water systems since 1989 and that the board would continue to look at ways to bring the rates down.
“There is a very intense struggle going on,” said Commissioner Greg Lynn. “One of the words I hear is ‘anger’ at the county’s mismanagement. That ship has sailed. We can’t un-ring that bell.”
He said the county had no choice but to take over failing water systems and decided three-to-four years ago to set up a structure to make sure the systems supported themselves in the most equitable way.
“We knew two years ago that we were going to proceed with this. The outcome cannot come as a surprise. We were aware of the inequalities and are trying to address them,” Lynn said.
Commissioner Dave Brady pointed out to east Valley customers that they have been the beneficiaries of nearly $2.5 million in subsidies.
“To think we’re pushing subsidies one way and not the other is just not correct,” Brady said.
He said there was a possibility of rate relief during the four-year transition period.
Attorney Joel Locke of Allison MacKenzie advised the board that the county was on the verge of getting the Sierra Country Estates water system in the Foothill area.
He said the small water system was in federal litigation.
Commission Chairman Mike Olson said the rate numbers represented the worst-case scenario and that the hikes would be under continual review.
“A decision has not been made,” he said. “We are waiting for final information. If it does not go into effect, the county would have to scramble for a new rate study.”
The resolution returns to the board at their June 17 meeting at Lake Tahoe.
When questioned about that decision, Brown pointed out that Lake customers also are affected by the consolidation and the discussion had alternated with the Valley.
“I find this consolidation, in concept, a direction as Douglas County grows up will be looking at more and more, not just water but in other services,” said Commissioner Nancy McDermid. “Every single person deserves to have clean, affordable water.”
ON THE WEB
Water System Consolidation Proposal
Dougals County Web site