Proposed water rate changes move ahead | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Proposed water rate changes move ahead

Griffin Rogers
griffin@tahoedailytribune.com

Douglas County has moved closer to finalizing water rates at three Lake Tahoe water systems, following months of back-and-forth discussion between commissioners and upset ratepayers.

County commissioners on Thursday approved a 25 percent rate increase for customers in the Zephyr Water Utility District. The new rate of $99.91 per month — for a typical residential customer — will take effect Nov. 1.

Meanwhile, a plan was approved to decrease water rates among customers of the Skyland and Cave Rock/Uppaway water systems, although the rates for those haven't yet been finalized.

If adopted at a later meeting, Cave Rock's average monthly bill would decrease by about 15 percent in the 2015 fiscal year and increase about 13 percent in the 2016 fiscal year. Skyland's bill, which follows a two-year plan like the other two water systems, would decrease by about 26 percent for both years.

Under the new rates, a typical residential customer's water bill at Cave Rock would be $172.86 in year one and $195.37 in year two. Skyland's would be a stable rate of $84.56.

A plan presented earlier this year initially called for the consolidation of all three water systems and a uniform rate, but was eventually abandoned after it received a large amount of criticism from ratepayers, specifically in ZWUD.

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Several ZWUD customers argued that combining costs with Cave Rock was inequitable because Cave Rock pays significantly more for operations and maintenance and has larger capital improvement needs, among other things.

The expected capital improvement costs for Cave Rock are about $8 million, compared to ZWUD's $1.6 million.

After switching directions a couple times, commissioners have now chosen a plan that essentially consolidates the systems by name only.

All three will be listed under a single enterprise fund with a common name, but their costs — such as existing debt, capital improvement needs and operations and maintenance expenses — will remain their own.

"In the long run, this might not be a perfect solution," Douglas County Commissioner Gregg Lynn said at Thursday's meeting. "But as for as equities are concerned, I have to agree with (commissioners) Doug (Johnson) and Nancy (McDermid). I think this is the least invasive way to address these inequities."

Commissioners unanimously approved the new rates at the public meeting, but notice of the changes needs to be given before the board can finalize and implement the rates for Cave Rock and Skyland.

At the meeting, every seat in the audience was filled, and many people stood before the board to voice their opinions on the new rates.

The most vocal group was comprised of Cave Rock customers, who favored consolidation. Many of them blamed the county for their relatively high cost of water and their extensive capital improvement needs.

Commissioners responded that they are looking at ways to reduce water rates in the county. One of those ways is through acquiring federal money, Commissioner Lee Bonner said.

"There are a lot of different ways we're trying to find federal funding," Bonner said to the audience. "So I don't want you to think we're just sitting back and saying, you know, 'oh, well, those citizens have to pay for it.' We know you can't. It's an impossible burden."

Douglas County acquired the three water systems from private owners in the late 1980s and early 1990s after the owners couldn't meet federal drinking water standards.

Some of the lines in the utility systems are more than 60 years old.

Lynn said Friday that the Cave Rock and Skyland rates would likely go back to the board for adoption in November.

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