The Community Services District is looking for ways to reduce a "worst case" budget increase of 20 percent for 2008-2009, but so far the savings are modest. Rates for water, sewer, garbage collection, drainage and security services would go up in July.
For Murieta Village residents, the increase in the flat rate for sewer service will be steep. The Village has historically paid a lower sewer rate than other residential users, but that's going to change because state law doesn't allow reduced charges "unless there is a true lower cost of service," according to a letter the CSD sent to ratepayers in April.
The 189 Village units currently pay a flat sewer rate of $24.01 a month while households on the North and South pay $31.58. The proposed increase would take the rate to $43.50.
The CSD letter provides the proposed rates and notification of a public hearing on the rates June 18.
Key factors in the rate increases are a lack of growth and flat or declining property tax revenue coupled with rising costs for power, fuel, wages and employer costs, according to the CSD letter.
The higher rates also would go to replenish the district's replacement reserves and to act on recommendations in an operations audit of the wastewater treatment plant. The audit recommends adding an employee and providing training to optimize plant operations at a estimated cost of $50,000.
The rate increase would repay $600,000 to reserves over a five-year payback period for costs related to the cease and desist order.
In addition, the proposed rates would restore the full contribution for reserves. It was cut to 50 percent during the two years the state diverted 80 percent of the district's share of property taxes, and restored to 75 percent last year.
According to General Manager Ed Crouse, there is about $3 million in sewer replacement reserves and a similar amount in water reserves at the present time. The $1.2 million cost of rehabilitating the Rio Oso water tank comes from reserves. Usually, $50,000 to $100,000 of reserve funds is used each year, Crouse said.
Last week the CSD Finance Committee looked for places in the budget to cut costs.
Directors indicated at the April board meeting that they wanted to discontinue spraying for midge fly infestations at Laguna Joaquin for a $10,000 savings in the budget. The fly is a tiny, nuisance insect that doesn't sting or bite.
At the committee meeting, Director Dick Taylor was emphatic about removing the item from the budget.
On the other hand, he defended CSD membership in various water authorities and organizations in spite of the cost. "It leads to the kind of representation that we need in the regulatory groups," he said.
Crouse agreed, saying, "We need to be a part and a party to those agreements and those plans so we can protect our surface water rights, and that's why we're in those groundwater authorities."
One of the areas that did see a cut was the legal consulting budget, which was reduced by $5,000.
The board is expected to continue the budget discussion at its meeting next week.
Previous coverage: CSD calls for 20.5% rate increase (April 17, 2008)