My Turn: Tapping ratepayers is the easy way out | SierraSun.com

My Turn: Tapping ratepayers is the easy way out

Jerry Wotel

Those of you residing or owning property within the North Tahoe Public Utility District boundaries have received a notice of a proposed water rate increase of about 55 percent and sewer rate increase of 114 percent. A few percent of this would have been the normal increase, but the vast majority of these increases are for infrastructure replacement.As some of you may recall from my column a year ago, I supported the replacement of water and sewer lines. In the Sierra Sun of Oct. 16, 2006, I stated, A community the size of ours cannot bear the cost of replacing the water and sewer grids alone, and yet they must be replaced. The board of directors must complete a district master plan for use in obtaining federal, state and county funding, abandon a failed fiscal policy, begin replacement of the infrastructure and conduct community outreach to inform district residents of the replacement strategy and progress. All that I see happening is an announced increase and a public meeting before the October board meeting and vote on the proposal.Therefore, it is really a matter of where the financing will be obtained. Obviously, the NTPUD board and staff prefer the easy solution of the rate increases be borne by the users. In the case of water, it will appear on our water bill, and for the sewer will be an increase in our taxes. The NTPUD seems not willing to partner with the community by organizational cost cutting or the use of current assets.The districts staff level is at an all-time high, and has a benefit package of 55 percent of the salary. In my experience, this is twice what companies offer, which have to be competitive and dont have the deep pockets of taking it from the community. The reason given is to keep their employees in Tahoe with its high living cost. I personally know an NTPUD employee who moved to Tahoe mainly for this benefit package.The Placer County Redevelopment Agency keeps the lions share of our taxes that should be going to the district for uses such as this. So we are effectively double taxed. Does not decaying infrastructure qualify as blight?The NTPUD has many real estate assets, such as the Firestone and Stoker properties. Why cannot these be sold to pay for these infrastructure improvements, or at least share the cost. After all, dont the district residents really own this property?In the Sierra Sun of Oct. 20, 2006, the NTPUD president stated, Through sound fiscal management, the NTPUD has $8.896 million in unrestricted cash and investments as of Oct. 10, 2006. Again, why not utilize these assets? Have they all been spent on the Beaver Street project through cost overruns? Isnt Beaver Street an infrastructure repair? How is that different from what is now proposed?Another thing to consider. If you are a Kings Beach resident in the grid, with your lines in your backyard, you will have to pay for the reconnect to the street-based lines, in addition to the rate increases.Why has this improvement project not been done over the last several years, when costs were lower? Ask your NTPUD board member. Attend the October board meeting and let them know how you feel, and see if you can change their minds about the rate increase financing.Jerry Wotel is a Tahoe Vista resident.