The Community Services District board of directors has decided to take an aggressive approach to restoring reserves that have been hard-hit in recent years. As a result, residents will soon receive a notice about rate increases in the draft 2008-2009 budget that would take the average monthly bill from $114.44 to $137.89, an increase of 20.5 percent
"These are what I consider worst-case rates to balance the budget as presented," General Manager Ed Crouse told the board at the outset of the budget discussion at Wednesday's meeting. Crouse was referring to an overall increase in operating costs of 14.5 percent in the draft budget.
The board's decision to increase reserve contributions for water and sewer added 6 percent to that amount, bringing the average monthly bill for residents in the gated community to $48.26, up from $40.38, and from $31.58 to $43.50 for sewer.
Individual rate increase percentages in the draft budget are 19.5 percent for water, 37.7 percent for sewer, 5 percent for drainage, 14 percent for security and 3.5 percent for garbage collection.
The board decided against implementing conservation pricing for water in the budget.
"In the next 45 days, staff and the Finance Committee will continue to refine the budgets and come back with the formal budget presentation at the normal board meeting date in June that complies with the 45-day window for the public review and comment period," Crouse said.
The point of using "worst-case rates" in the notice that goes to ratepayers is they can be reduced during the budget fine-tuning process or at the rate hearing. "Once you set the rates, you can't raise them but you can lower them," Crouse has told the Finance Committee.
The final version of the budget and the rate increases would be adopted at a second meeting held a week after the June board meeting. New rates take effect 30 days after they are adopted, which would coincide with the CSD's late July billing cycle, Crouse said. The fiscal year begins July 1.
Residents will receive the 45-day notice about the proposed rate increases by May 1.
The district is required by law to balance operating expenses and revenues. The total revenue is projected to be $4,881,762 in the draft operating budget, which includes $568,000 in property tax revenue.
Crouse said there are "a myriad of reasons" for the budget increases. Costs for labor, fuel, energy, chemicals and regulatory compliance have all increased, and revenues are flat, with no new development expected until 2012.
After years of priding itself on not having rate increases, the CSD raised rates and reduced the reserves contribution built into the rates by 50 percent to compensate for an 80 percent state cutback in property tax revenue that began in 2004 and lasted two years.
The district then relied on sewer reserves to pay for costs related to the cease and desist order the Central Valley Regional Water Control Board issued in 2006. The CSD completed its responsibilities for the cease and desist order issues in January.
The full reserves contribution is restored in the 2008-2009 draft budget. The sewer rate also includes a catch-up reserves contribution based on a five-year payback of about $600,000, Crouse said.
The sewer rate would also fund an additional wastewater treatment plant position and $50,000 for training to optimize plant operations "at least for budgeting purposes" as a response to recommendations in a plant operations audit, according to Crouse.
Director Bobbi Belton, a member of the Finance Committee, said she had "some real problems" with increasing the security tax 14 percent and "getting nothing new for it." The draft budget increases the security tax from $21 to $23.89 for residents behind the gates, but doesn't fund an additional patrol position.
"The reason the increases in the security tax are catching up to us is we have a contract that requires us to make annual adjustments to the salary plus step increases, employer's costs have gone up, fuel costs have gone up on the order of 30 to 50 percent," Crouse said.
He pointed out 80 to 90 percent of the Security Department budget is for personnel, "so the big-ticket items come out of labor."
The proposed increases would bring the special taxes for security and drainage to their maximum levels. In rate projections for 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, drainage and security exceed the 2 percent maximum tax rate. A two-thirds vote of approval in a district-wide election is required to raise the special taxes for security and drainage.
The 3.5 percent increase for solid waste collection was calculated using a formula in the contract for the service.
"I hate for us to mail out a little card with the worst-case scenario," Belton said. "I could live with 6 to 8 percent and explain to people that prior boards held the rates at virtually nothing for seven or eight years in a row. ... I would like us to build up those reserves."
Several residents attending the meeting spoke in support of rate increases.
Ted Hart said he wanted "to offer my complete support to the board concerning the issue of these rate increases. ... I feel very comfortable that ... each one of you has taken the time to look into all of the issues as completely as possible, the staff included ... The problem is since previous boards ... have not raised these rates periodically ... all of a sudden they've caught up with us and now you're faced with this major increase coming all at once. ... I encourage you to put enough money in there so that you can build these reserves back up to where they need to be."
Kurt Wassermann said he was pleased to see a position for an additional wastewater treatment plant operator included in the budget. "I would urge you to fund and support any effort to increase the reliability of the treatment plant," he said. "Even though I realize money is tight, this may be an excellent investment because one thing you don't want is the regional board coming down again and handing out fines."
Sheriff's presence in the community
Problem Oriented Policing (POP) Deputy Mark Kuzmich spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting about the Sheriff's Department's involvement in the community.
"The things that are happening out here, we know what's going on out here ... We're in communication all the time ... I am working with my sergeant, my lieutenant to get a once-a-month meeting with Chief Remson ... to discuss things and how to problem-solve the issues," he said. "What we do as law enforcement is one thing. As it moves on to the district attorney's office, I can't speak for, but we're out here for you guys."
When asked about the prospects for getting regular sheriff's patrols for Rancho Murieta, Kuzmich said a new service center is being considered for Rosemont that could allow him to concentrate on enforcement in Gold River and Rancho Murieta. "Now, with the budget, if that comes to fruition or not, I don't know, but that's what the talks are about. ... I try to get out here as much as I can."
Asked about Sheriff's Department patrols, Kuzmich said there are "two, three officers that have from Watt Avenue to the Amador County line. ... So they don't spend any time in any given neighborhood just patrolling. They're pretty much call-to-call."
Exploring new forms of government
The board approved the formation of an ad hoc governance committee to assess current governance in the community, evaluate other options, and submit a final report by the end of the year.
As outlined by CSD legal counsel Steve Rudolph, the committee will have nine voting members -- a CSD director, seven members of the public (two are to be selected by the Rancho Murieta Association), and one development representative.
Non-voting members include the general managers of the RMA and CSD, Rudolph and a representative from the Sacramento County executive's office.
After a three-week recruitment period, committee members will be selected and approved at the May CSD meeting, General Manager Ed Crouse said.
The process will be open to the public and residents can apply to be on the committee.
Security Chief Greg Remson provided the following updates at the meeting.
- He said the California Highway Patrol arrested two Murietans for driving under the influence about 10 p.m. Tuesday night. According to Remson, the CHP followed a vehicle from Highway 16 through the North Gate to the Gazebo and arrested the 21-year-old driver for driving under the influence. A second arrest took place after a passenger from the vehicle got into his own car . "They decided to talk to him and he also went for DUI," Remson said.
- Remson said he has been working with Sheriff's Department detectives on the car break-ins that occurred last month and a recent vandalism incident where paint was thrown on a car parked in a driveway on Carreta Lane. "They've got some information. We don't know if it's going to pan out, but it's moving forward," he said, adding that probation officers were in the community Wednesday "making visits."
- The automatic calling system known as "reverse 911" that will allow the CSD to contact residents by phone with emergency messages will be ready this week. The CSD contracts for the service at a cost of $5,000 a year.
- Remson reported on new camera technology for photographing license plates and operating cameras over greater distances that have potential applications in Rancho Murieta. The items were shown at a security conference he attended in Las Vegas.
Recycling report card -- better but not good enough
Jack Fiori of California Waste Recovery Systems provided the annual report on how well the community's recycling efforts are going.
Total tonnage that was picked up from the community remained about the same -- 2,024 tons in 2007, only nine tons less than 2006. Recycling improved from 46 percent of the total to 47 percent, although it still fell short of the 50 percent landfill diversion goal set by the state.
Jack Fiori of California Waste Recovery Systems displays the sticker that will be placed on cans to help residents with their recycling efforts.
"That's nearly a ton per residence," Director Jerry Pasek commented. "That seems like an awful lot of solid waste."
"About 40 pounds a week," Fiori replied.
The community's diversion figures are reported to Sacramento County and become part of its consolidated results. It's the county's responsibility to meet the 50 percent diversion goal mandated by state law, and the county's overall diversion rate is over 50 percent, Fiori said. So Rancho Murieta may not be doing its part, but other communities are.
Despite the shortfall, "your recycling numbers are good," Fiori said. "They show a solid participation."
Fiori brought along the decals that soon will be placed inside the lid of the green recycling cans to help residents identify materials that can be placed in the can. The decals will remind residents "what does go in and it will also remind them what doesn't go in. And maybe we can get that 47 to go to 48 or to 49 next year. That's what my goal is."
The company does 10 to 15 bulk-waste pickups a week in the community. Residents can schedule up to four pick-ups a year by calling 354-4154.
Two seats open in CSD election Nov. 7
The board approved putting the election of two CSD directors on the Nov. 7 ballot. The seats up for election are currently held by Directors Wayne Kuntz and Jerry Pasek. Kuntz has served two four-year terms and Pasek was appointed to the board last year to complete the term of Bill White, who resigned.