Nevada Irrigation District amends proposed rate hikes | TheUnion.com

Nevada Irrigation District amends proposed rate hikes

Sam Corey
Staff Writer
Dianne Suarez speaks against rate hikes at the Nevada Irrigation District public forum Wednesday.
Sam Corey/scorey@theunion.com

With water rate increases came controversy.

After public comment and deliberation, the Nevada Irrigation District board of directors decided in a 3-2 vote to approve an amended version of the original water rate increases to the budget.

On Wednesday the public cast 4,694 protest letters against the proposed Nevada Irrigation Water rate increases. That fell about 8,000 letters short of preventing the proposal from happening altogether.

Still, the board took into account the significant protest letters and changed course. Rather than increase water rates at 5.72% each year for five years for both volumetric and base rates, the board voted to increase rates at 5.72% for three years.

These rate increases are a maximum number — they could be lowered by the board based on how much money is saved in the budget each year.

There was a second amendment modifying the resolution to set a goal of cutting budget costs at a minimum of 5% for this year’s 2019 budget. The district staff is tasked with deriving options to cut costs by July’s board meeting.

Additional language to the revised resolution included district staff having to create a new cost study in 2020 to determine where cuts are possible.

A decision will be made to formally adopt these changes to the budget possibly by the board’s next meeting on May 22. Regardless, the changes will not go into effect until July 1.

HOW WE GOT HERE

According to the Nevada Irrigation District’s website, for the past five years the district has seen an $8 million loss of revenue due to droughts in the area. That caused the board to try to make up the money and prevent future revenue loss.

Attendee Maureen Collins, was concerned as to why the district was raising rates for customers and not making up the loss from a rainy day budget.

“The condition of (Nevada Irrigation District) right now says you do not work within your budget because otherwise you don’t end up where you are right now,” she said during the meeting. Collins added there should be another way to recover the lost revenue.

“I would suggest there’s a lot of internal housekeeping that needs to happen before you simply put out your hand and tell us — the rate payers — that we have to solve the problem,” she said.

Nicole Raglin agreed.

“I’m absolutely opposed to any rate increases without them doing their due diligence and having fiscal responsibility to the community,” she said.

Attendee Don Smith said there were too many unanswered questions in order to pass a rate hike.

“What’s the accounting for our reserve fund?” he asked. “How did we get here from five or six years ago to where we are today?”

Smith said much costs can be cut, noting the base compensation for the district general manager was around $134,000 in 2013, but today is around $252,000. According to Transparent California, an internet public pay and pension database, NID General Manager Rem Scherzinger made $191,181 in regular pay and $280,076 in total pay and benefits for 2016, the latest year available on the website.

“All the solutions are coming from increasing the revenue side, and I don’t see enough attention with the cost side of the equation,” he said.

The attendee admitted water rate increases may still be needed, but questioned how steep they need to be.

Ron Egenes was concerned about the trickle-down effect of increasing water rates.

“People have already talked about (how) products will increase, then wages will increase and there will become the closure of small businesses — that’s what happens when you have irresponsible price raises,” said Egenes.

For the next three years, treated water customers will likely see an average increase of $13.07 per month.

Attendee Mark Johnson noted that of the about 36 people who spoke during public comment, none were in favor of the proposed rate increase.

Contact Sam Corey at 530-477-4219 or at scorey@theunion.com.


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