It was standing room only at a Douglas County Board of Commissioners discussion on water rates Thursday, as customers of three Tahoe water systems facing consolidation voiced their opinions on sharing costs over the next five years.
Ultimately, commissioners voted unanimously to pursue an option that consolidates operations and maintenance expenses among the three systems, but keeps each system’s existing debt separate.
The result would be that water rates over the next five years could be significantly lower for customers in the Skyland and Cave Rock-Uppaway water systems, but considerably higher for those in the Zephyr Water Utility District, which includes Marla Bay.
“That’s what the Marla Bay Protective Association has advocated,” Commissioner Nancy McDermid said before the vote, “so that is why the board after March 20 asked Carl (Ruschmeyer, the county Public Works director) to come up with this option.”
Under the proposed rate changes, ZWUD customers would pay $117.09 per month for water in 2015, whereas Cave Rock-Uppaway and Skyland customers would pay $151.17 per month and $92.15 per month, respectively.
Current monthly water rates for customers in the three systems are $79.95 in ZWUD, $202.46 in Cave Rock-Uppaway and $114.23 in Skyland.
“This board has somewhere along the way come to a conclusion that $200-a-month water rates are really not where we want to continue to go,” McDermid said. “So we’ve done everything we know how to bring it down.”
Staff initially proposed a consolidated water rate, which included combining the existing debt service and operations and maintenance expenses of all three Tahoe water systems.
However, Cave Rock has a higher existing debt than the other two water systems, and Zephyr district customers claimed that being made to take on another system’s current financial commitments was not equitable.
“I don’t believe any cost savings that might result from consolidating the three district’s have been adequately identified, quantified or communicated,” said ZWUD customer and CPA Dick Barnard at Thursday’s meeting.
Now that county officials have decided to keep the three water systems’ existing debt separate, notices of the proposed water rate change need to be made before commissioners can finalize the new rates.
Commission Chairman Doug Johnson said the newly proposed monthly water rates will likely be brought before the board in June or July.