Rates next hurdle for water company consolidation in Douglas County
Consolidating the accounts of Douglas County’s Lake Tahoe and Carson Valley water systems was relatively painless earlier this month.
The real debate will come when it’s time to implement new rates for the systems that serve about 2,400 homes and businesses across the county.
Commissioners voted 5-0 July 5 to approve the consolidation, leave rates where they are and settle a lawsuit with Cave Rock customers.
“Now that we’ve consolidated, we must set rates for the customers,” Assistant County Manager Jenifer Davidson said. “We’re recommending no changes in rates until we finish analysis of the system and have a policy discussion with the board.”
Davidson told commissioners that work will be done as quickly as possible.
“We have our marching orders,” she said. “We need to do the analysis as soon as possible. We’ll will be bringing in a scope of work with a previous consultant.”
Besides county commissioners Barry Penzel and Nancy McDermid, only one water system user spoke at Thursday’s meeting, and he supported the change.
Foothill resident Jim Slade, who is not a water customer, likened the settlement to that with Jobs Peak, where he said the county ended up saddled with $1 million in infrastructure improvements after taking over a noncompliant water system from the developer.
Cave Rock resident Brent Craven, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, took issue with the claim that the settlement in this case was in any way similar to that with Jobs Peak.
“We are very different than Jobs Peak,” he said. “The county has owned our system for 30 years. We’re paying double the rates of everyone at the Lake. We were expected to pay to improve the infrastructure at Uppaway by ourselves.”
Deputy District Attorney Doug Ritchie said he felt the settlement of the Cave Rock lawsuit was amicable.
As to the settlement with Jobs Peak, he pointed out that it is unusual to be sued and end up with property.
Commission Chairman Steve Thaler expressed surprise there wasn’t a larger crowd at the meeting.
“I’m surprised we didn’t see more members of the public,” he said. “It was standing room only at the Lake (at the 2014 meetings),” he said.
Thaler supported consolidating the water systems’ budgets and operations.
“When we come out with rates, some customers are going to have higher bills and some will have lower bills,” he said. “I believe the next board will do the right thing.”
Penzel said consolidating the water systems is a first step.
“We have two protected groups,” he said. “Those who are in GIDs and those who have wells. This is really creating an environment to be successful in discussing these things.”