Jason Cowan
The Union Democrat

The Calaveras County Water District announced a rate hike scheduled for later this year will likely be eliminated by month’s end.

The announcement came after the CCWD board directed its staff to explore ways to avoid the hike during a March 9 meeting.

The board will officially take action on March 23. The hike was originally intended to increase standard residential rates by $5.11 per month and wastewater by $3.84 per month in September.

“The board needs to act for it not to go through,” Joel Metzger, CCWD spokesman, said.

Metzger said Friday this was going to be the third rate increase in conjunction with the three rate increases approved from a 5-year rate plan set up in 2013.

Initially, the rate hike was scheduled to go into effect in September 2015, but the board decided to postpone it for one year. Metzger said, in developing a budget for next year, it is important to answer questions early on.

“Knowing if the rate increase will go forward or not, it will be important,” Metzger said.

All rate hikes would have contributed to a reserve within the Capital Renovations and Replacement fund that is intended to address issues regarding infrastructure within the district.

“(The) budget worked out that we can still do projects without this rate increase,” Metzger said.

According to the water district, staff informed the board that it would have enough capital to complete the most critical projects.

The challenge, Metzger said, is without a rate increase it will be difficult to fund emergency projects, like the Jenny Lind Pretreatment plant. Some regular projects may be delayed as other issues arise, due to fewer funds in reserve.

“(It is) important to have an emergency fund,” Metzger said. “To have money for the planned and unplanned.”

A pressing issue for the district, according to Metzger, is the ongoing shortfall within the operations and maintenance budget for wastewater services, something the district identified in a recent audit.

The potential scheduled rate increase would not contribute to the operations and maintenance budget, nor can funds be transferred from the Capital Renovation and Replacement fund without a vote from the board.

“The board was very committed to making sure these funds were used toward capital improvement projects,” Metzger said.

Metzger said, without a healthy balance within the Operations and Maintenance budget, the district is at risk of not qualifying for millions in grant funding for improvements to the wastewater systems.

“The staff is actively working to present options to the board on how we can fill that gap,“ Metzger said.