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04.27.11

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Fighting the Hike

Why the west Sonoma County water hearing matters

By David Matt


Customers living or working in Sweetwater Springs Water District's service area (Guerneville, Monte Rio, Rio Nido, Villa Grande) might want to attend the public hearing on May 5. At a time when it has enjoyed budget surpluses for the past three years and has reserves in excess of $2.5 million, the district is planning to impose 3 percent rate increases every year for the next nine years. While hiking rates, it is also planning to lower the minimum retirement age for its 10 employees from 65 to 55, and just made a special $240,000 contribution to their retirement account. On average, those 10 employees are paid $135,852 in annual salaries and benefits.

If a majority of the district's 3,800 customers do not protest the planned rate increase in writing, on or before the hearing date, the rate hike will take effect. So if you can't attend the meeting, be sure to download the protest form at the district's website (www.sweetwatersprings.com), fill it out and mail it to the district before the May 5 meeting.

This is harder to defeat than in a normal election where the majority of votes prevail; in this situation, the people who remain apathetic and don't protest are counted as yes votes. A majority means that 1,901 written protests must be received by the time of the hearing, or we'll all be subject to the rate hike.

I asked the district how much seating will be available for customers attending the hearing on May 5. The reply speaks volumes about the district's expectations: "Not including the board and staff, our conference room can accommodate an additional eight to 10 people. We have held rate increase hearings in May 2008, May 2009 and in earlier years (we did not increase rates in 2010). For those hearings, our board room has been sufficiently large."

Eight to 10 people—that's .0026 percent of the district's customer base. Let's show them just how many tapped-out customers there are who want to protest the rate hike. Attend the hearing on Thursday, May 5, at 6:30pm in the district's office located at 17081 Hwy. 116, Ste. B, Guerneville, California. Let them know enough is enough.

Before retirement, David Matt served in the city attorney offices in San Jose and Santa Maria, Calif. He lives in Occidental.


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