Report: NID rate increase needed
One year after blasting the Nevada Irrigation District for raising water rates while holding large financial reserves, the Nevada County civil grand jury is now recommending a rate increase for NID water consumers.
In a report issued Wednesday, this year’s grand jury panel said NID needs to raise rates to meet water division operation expenses, instead of dipping into reserves. California county grand juries typically are secretive by nature and do not publicly elaborate on their reports.
The six-page report concludes NID has become more “user friendly” to the public and should spend some of its reserves for capital improvements.
The report focused on six key areas: management; funding of capital improvements; reserve uses; operating deficits; service extensions; and water rates.
Both NID Board Chairman Dr. Scott Miller and General Manager Ron Nelson said the district has been headed toward the grand jury’s recommendation of raising water rates since 2004, when a five-year plan to raise rates 9 percent a year was implemented – the very thing another grand jury criticized in 2006.
The NID plan to raise water rates 9 percent a year was scrapped after the first year, partly due to public outcry over its $73 million in reserves.
“But we departed from it as we started to realign our business plan and wondered if the points in our old rate structure were still valid,” Nelson said. He said a new study needed to get the water division financially in line already is in the works.
Nelson also said the grand jury’s recommendation to simplify NID’s multi-tiered rate structure so that raw and treated water customers support the water division equally was well taken. But Nelson said the sprawling district’s nature made that hard because the costs of shipping raw water includes long canals and other infrastructure that are proportionately more costly to run than treated water operations.
In another seeming flip-flop, this year’s grand jury report said the public has misunderstood the need of the reserves to shore up NID’s aging facilities, thinking they should be used to keep their rates low.
Of concern in the report was the fact that NID’s Water Division has no reserves for maintenance, repairs or replacement.
In other areas the report was laudatory to NID.
“Over the past few years virtually all of NID’s senior management team has turned over, resulting in an effective, smooth working, highly efficient team which has demonstrated innovation and attention to the public’s needs,” the report said. “NID is becoming more user friendly,” it said, because of new pilot programs designed to get water to customers who have gone without for years.
The grand jury report also noted that one unnamed director needs to show more respect for fellow board members and the public, but NID officials said they were not sure who that was.
Director Nancy Weber has been a maverick on the board for the past few years and has steadfastly opposed the plan to send water to a booming Lincoln until its full impact is known. Weber said she did not think the grand jury was talking about her in its report.
“I’m respectful to others on the board,” Weber said, and she would not speculate who else the grand jury was talking about between fellow board members George Leipzig, John Drew, Paul Williams and Miller.
Miller said he had no idea either, but said the grand jury’s user-friendly statement was particularly satisfying.
“That’s a result of the strategic planning that we started when I was chair four years ago,” Miller said.
To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@ theunion.com or call 477-4237.
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