Douglas County commissioners at a board meeting Thursday approved the consolidation of three small Tahoe water systems, which will have to share each other’s existing debt when the changes go into effect this summer.
Cave Rock-Uppaway, Skyland and Zephyr water utility districts will begin paying a uniform base rate of $96.61 per month starting in July. That rate will increase by $4 each year to $113.02 in 2019 as more than $100,000 in annual general fund subsidies for the systems are phased out.
The consolidation and the decision to confirm lumping the existing debt together were voted on separately at the meeting. A unanimous vote was taken to consolidate the systems, but adding in the existing debt of all three systems passed with split 3-2 approval.
Commissioners Lee Bonner and Barry Penzel cast the opposing votes.
Throughout the meeting, there was standing room only as many water customers in the Skyland and Zephyr utility districts voiced their opposition over a part of the changes. Marla Bay resident Piper Smith was one of them.
“I don’t think that we all mind so much consolidation,” she said, “as long as everyone pays their fair share.”
Smith and other Zephyr system customers were against the idea of taking on the existing debt burdens of other water systems — specifically Cave Rock, which has higher existing debt and operational costs.
Now that commissioners have approved the changes, Cave Rock’s existing monthly base rate of $202 will drop to about $96. Zephyr’s monthly base rate will increase from $80 to $96.
Without consolidation, monthly water rates in Cave Rock would have increased from $202 to $244.
Commissioner Nancy McDermid said hard decisions have to be made.
“Someone over here is happy. Someone over here is not happy,” she said at the meeting. “That’s the nature of a lot of the decisions in the public realm.”
Water bills in the three utility systems may rise even more when proposed capital improvement work is finalized.
Commissioners directed staff to complete a preliminary engineering report and bring back a financing plan for future capital improvements. They also requested that staff look into the use of water meters.
Early estimates show that installing water meters at all three systems could cost about $3 million.