I owe an apology to the NID board of directors for raising a procedural question at the pubic hearing on Jan. 8 regarding the 30-percent rate increase (over five years at 6 percent per year).
I had reviewed Proposition 218 and at the time believed the matter of utility rate increases came under Section 5 of the California Constitution, rather than Section 6. Section 5 requires that a separate ballot be included with the notice of rate increase, but Section 6 does not.
NID attorney Jeffrey Meith pointed out my error, and now that I have researched the matter, I acknowledge he was right. It is Section D of Article 13D of the California Constitution, amended by the populace by Proposition 218 in 1996, which controls the process required for a governmental agency such as NID to raise water rates, and I stand corrected.
Owning a business in Grass Valley, I am an NID customer because Grass Valley buys water from NID. I am also an NID customer at my residence. I attended the meeting because I have been watching our water and other utility rates climbing higher and higher each year, and I am growing more and more concerned over the high costs of these services.
I was interested to know how the public felt about the rate increases. The meeting was attended by an overflow crowd of an estimated 75 to 100 Nevada County residents. Each and every one of those who spoke expressed protest against the rate increases. I don’t think anyone came forward and said the proposal made sense and was in favor of it.
In fact, some of the criticism over NID’s presentation was the failure by NID to provide any information whatsoever on its projected capital outlays or an overview of its overhead, for instance, the costs of maintenance and operations.
Some farmers and ranchers expressed dismay at the high cost of water and staying in business to provide quality food for the Nevada County community. Others expressed the concern that when the costs of doing business make continuing in business unfeasible, the likely outcome is the disappearance of open space and farmland and more development. Hence, we lose our quality of life, and stand to lose the high levels of tourism we currently enjoy as the economic lifeblood of the community.
At the meeting I had questioned the legal procedure by which NID has resolved to substantially raise our costs of water. As it turns out, had 51 percent of the people, some 15,000 people, written a letter of protest to the board and had the letters been received by Jan. 8, the increases would not take place. In reality, NID received some 300 letters.
Unlike other property assessments, which require that a separate “ballot” be included with the billing service, no ballot procedure applies when it comes to water rate increases. I am very unhappy with this.
As an NID customer who now pays over $1,500 each year just for water, I believe the legal process should have been better designed to afford the public due process. Apparently the process can be changed, but only if we as a community stand together and support an initiative to require a better process or referendum to repeal the increases.
Proposition 218 gives local residents the power to use the initiative to repeal or reduce any property related local tax, assessment or fee they challenge.
With the November 2014 election upon us, maybe it’s time for the citizens of Nevada County to make their voices heard through the legal process.
As a final thought, through my experience at the NID hearing, I came to question what was the point of a “public hearing” if NID had no intention of modifying their proposals.
Frankly, I feel it was a farce and a horrific waste of time.
Lorraine Reich is an attorney in Grass Valley.
I attended the meeting because I have been watching our water and other utility rates climbing higher and higher each year, and I am growing more and more concerned over the high costs of these services.