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Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach water district seeks input on rate hike

A mailer went out to Santa Fe Irrigation District users last week.
A mailer went out to Santa Fe Irrigation District users last week.
(Courtesy)

The Santa Fe Irrigation District is going through its rate-setting process right now and an eight-page notice was recently sent out to all customers on what is being proposed and how they can participate in the process — including how to oppose the increases.

Santa Fe Irrigation District Manager Michael Bardin visited the Rancho Santa Fe Association board meeting on April 7 as the district continues its outreach process on the proposed raise in rates.

“We haven’t raised rates in three years and we currently have the lowest rates in San Diego County,” Bardin said. “I used to take a certain amount of pride in that but at this point that causes me some concern because as the cost of business goes up, we’ve been absorbing a lot of costs and wholesale water costs are going up. It’s critical now for us to raise our rates.”

Not only is the district changing the rates because it needs more revenue, the structure of rates is also changing. While Bardin said it is a very complex and nuanced structure, in general, the increase in revenue that the district is requiring is about 9 percent.

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“That does not mean that everybody’s rates go up 9 percent, your rates go up proportional to your level usage, your meter size,” Bardin said.

Due to changes in fixed and variable costs, some customers will see a very slight increase while others will see a large increase, he said.

The board will consider taking action on the rate proposal at a hearing on Thursday, May 19 at 8:30 a.m. at the SFID offices. Customers can submit written comments up until that day.

“It’s important for the district to continue to meet your needs but it’s also important for you, as a ratepayer, to understand that rates are going up and you need to weigh in on what you think and understand how it’s going to impact you,” Bardin said.

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In addition to the May 19 hearing, there will also be three community forums for the public to get more answers and to provide input: Thursday, April 14 at 5:30 p.m.; Wednesday, April 20 at 10 a.m.; and Tuesday, April 26 at 5:30 p.m. All forums will be held at the SFID office (5920 Linea del Cielo, Rancho Santa Fe, 92067).

If a majority of the property owners in the district are against the rate increases (about 3,253 written ballots would be required), the board cannot move forward with the increases.

Any homeowner can submit a written protest on the proposed rate increases, they just have to provide the location of their parcel by street address, parcel number or customer account number and include a signature of the property owner. Written protests may be submitted to P.O. Box 409, Rancho Santa Fe, 92067 or in person at the SFID office. E-mail or electronic protests are not valid.

RSF Association Director Mike Licosati had questions about the settlement agreement reached last year between the Metropolitan Water District and the San Diego County Water Authority. The Metropolitan Water District, the wholesale water provider to the county, was ordered to pay damages of $188.3 million plus interest due to overcharging.

“Have you considered, because you’re likely to collect a significant amount of money, to hold off on raising rates? You have a potential huge windfall…It seems like a huge pot of money that’s out there and maybe delaying raising rates now would make more sense,” Licosati said.

Bardin said that is not what the district is doing. He said when all the appeals are completed, which could take a long time, the money will be distributed to all water agencies in the county and at that point they will decide what the funds will be put to use for.

The potential windfall that could occur some time in the future has not been a part of the district’s planning picture at this time, Bardin said.

“We’ve used up all our reserves, we need to raise our rates now,” Bardin said.

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RSF resident Lisa Bartlett requested that the district make it easier for customers to object and even proposed a privately-funded mailer which detailed more information about how the increase will impact homeowners with larger properties.

“I have absolutely no doubt that the water district needs to raise rates but it seems to me that the larger communities, such as the Covenant, Fairbanks Ranch, some in Sun Valley, Montecito and Solana Beach, are going to be unduly penalized for the rates that I understand are 9 percent this year, 9 percent next year and 9 percent in fiscal year 2018, which means a 27 percent increase,” Bartlett said.

Bartett added that it looks like most of the people could actually have a rate increase of close to 11 percent and 25 percent a year.

Bardin said he understands no one likes a rate increase but affirmed that the proposed rates are based on detailed engineering, financial and legal evaluations with the assistance of top experts in the fields. The district also went through a thorough cost of service analysis that is available on the district’s website.

“I can assure you, the rates are allocated fairly,” Bardin said. “I’m going to advocate that we need the rate increase. If the Association opposes that and the members oppose that, the process is there to oppose it. I would encourage you to be thoughtful about that, read what we’ve got out there and take a look at what does it take to meet the needs, that’s what we’re trying to do. We truly are looking out for your interest and trying to do it the right way.”

For more information on the rate increases and upcoming meetings, visit sfidwater.org


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