Terry McLaughlin: Make your voice heard on Nevada Irrigation District rate increases | TheUnion.com

Terry McLaughlin: Make your voice heard on Nevada Irrigation District rate increases

Every five years, the Nevada Irrigation District reviews and evaluates its operations, system requirements and financial situation.

On Feb. 13 of this year, the NID Board of Directors voted 3-2 to move forward with a rate increase. The proposed rate hikes will affect thousands of NID customers in Placer, Nevada and Yuba counties.

If you are an owner or tenant of a property whose water is provided by our municipal water district, you should have received a letter of intent from NID dated March 4. That letter included charts which illustrate how the proposed rate increase will affect both treated water and raw water customers.

The average fixed rate increase for residential customers is estimated to be $13.07 per month beginning this May … by 2023, the average fixed service rate is expected to double. Both the fixed service charges and the unit charges for volume of water used would increase.

NID billing statements, currently issued every two months, would be issued every month. Perhaps NID recognizes the amount of the proposed increase is so large, a bill for two months would be unpalatable to the ratepayer? In addition, California law requires all newly built residential units to install an interior fire suppression system, which in many cases requires a separate water line. Every homeowner hopes that they will not experience a fire and that the system will never be activated. But even if a single drop of water is never used, the homeowner is required to pay a base bi-monthly service fee for this second NID hookup, which will likely also increase.

In 1996, the California electorate passed Proposition 218, entitled the “Right to Vote on Taxes Act.” Proposition 218 was passed in an attempt to constrain the authority of cities, counties, and special districts to raise revenue by requiring compliance with mandatory procedural and substantive requirements. As a special district, Nevada Irrigation District is required to conduct public business in compliance with Proposition 218, which demands that all fees, assessments and taxes be agreed to by the voter.

Rather than allowing the ratepayers to vote to agree on the proposed rate increase, NID will enact this rate increase unless 50 percent plus one of the ratepayers submit a formal letter of protest. This has subjugated the intent of Proposition 218 and has become an increasingly accepted practice of special districts that determine your vote in the negative.

NID’s letter of intent includes instructions for filing a protest prior to the April 24 board of directors meeting, at which this rate increase will be voted upon by the board:

“Only one written protest per parcel, filed by an owner or tenant, shall be counted. If the District receives written protests representing a majority of the affected parcels, the proposed rate increase will not be implemented.

“For protests to be counted, property owners or tenants wishing to file a written protest to the proposed rate increases and adjustments must mail or deliver them to: Nevada Irrigation District, Attn: Customer Service, 1036 West Main St., Grass Valley, CA 95945 at or before the conclusion of the public meeting.

“All written protests must contain: A description of the property (such as address and/or parcel number) sufficient to identify the property and a signature of the property owner or tenant. If the protest is submitted by someone whose name is not listed on the water bill or on the last equalized county assessment roll for the property ownership, written evidence should be provided that the protest is submitted by a tenant or property owner.”

In addition to the informational meetings held by NID on March 19 and March 21, NID Director Ricki Heck, one of the two members of the board of directors who voted against the proposed rate increases, has arranged a public town hall meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 3, in the Nevada Count Board of Supervisors chambers at the Rood Center. NID staff will be present to share their reasoning for such large rate increases, to answer questions, and to explain the process to protest the rate hike, should you desire to do so.

Property owners understand that operational costs such as salaries and capital improvements increase over time. However, the rate increases sought by NID — to take effect as early as May 1 — are so dramatic that they will create a burden on most households. Seniors living on fixed incomes will be affected. Landlords who pay the water bills on behalf of their tenants may be forced to increase rents at a time when there is a demonstrable shortage of affordable rental units. Families will find it increasingly difficult to stretch their paychecks to cover these rapidly rising costs for a vital product.

NID needs to more clearly and specifically articulate the need for such substantial increases to its ratepayers, in order to garner their support and acceptance.

If you are an owner or tenant of a property serviced by NID in Placer, Nevada or Yuba counties and are not satisfied that a rate increase of this size is justified, I urge you to write a letter of protest to NID for each property you own. A written protest from 50 percent plus one customers must be received prior to April 24, which will require the NID office to be virtually flooded with letters. Make your voice heard!

Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at terrymclaughlin2016@gmail.com.

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