It was a sequel, or in code. Well everyone else there seemed to know what they were talking about, but I needed to look up the background information in the 1" thick press package and even then I couldn't keep up with all of it. So I phoned the District on Wednesday and Thursday with follow up questions.
The Budget presented at the Workshop spans July, 2011 to June 2013. It's described in the handout from the meeting as a two year Budget for 2012 and 2013, but General Manager Bert Michalczyk called it two one-year budgets. The 2013 budget would be reviewed again next year.
The workshop actually covered four budgets; the 2012 and 2013 CIP (Capital Improvement Program) budgets were presented first by District Engineer, Dave Requa. Requa told the Board of Directors that the projects are the same as last year's with the addition of $1.5M for a unit to reduce the amount of liquid in wastewater to dry out the bio-solids for easier disposal. This was not a tasty topic for a dinner-time presentation.
Two projects in the on-going list are probably of more importance to residents of South San Ramon, $75K in 2012 is budgeted for rehabilitation of the sewer pipe in Pine Valley Road, and $350K over the next two years for the Wastewater Collection system Replacement (Rehabilitation) Program. It's good to know that DSRSD is repairing and replacing older sewer lines over the next year or two. The total CIP budget for the next two years comes to approximately $9.5M.
Financial Services Manager, Lori Rose, presented the two year Operating Budget, which comes in at close to $7M each year. The 2013 budget is only 1.29% higher than the 2008 budget, and the 2012 budget is almost exactly the same. I asked Lori Rose why 2008 was used for comparison instead of 2009 or 2010, and she said it was in the table they used in the slide. But she also added that 2008, which was really FY 2007-08, was the last normal year before the financial crisis hit.
One of the more controversial issues last year was the Temporary Infrastructure Charge. This was an $18 charge added to water bills to cover the cost of building the infrastructure in Dougherty Valley after connection fees (now called Capacity fees) dried up in the housing crisis. The District was $50M in debt and needed to refinance its loans. They had to get their credit rating up to keep the interest down on a bond issue. They were able to do this by adding the $18 "temporary" infrastructure fee.
Last year the Directors considered raising the fee in 2012, but the bond sale went through. There won't be an increase in the fee, but the fee isn't going away either. Director Rich Halket wants it kept in the budget "as a safety measure." Developers are starting to apply for Capacity fees again, but since the economy and the housing market are still iffy, this "temporary" fee will stay in the budget for 2012 but could be revisited in 2013.
The 2012 Budget includes funds for a Rate Study. With water use dropping, rates will probably be increased. That's the catch 22 of water districts. They bill whatever it takes to cover expenses, so water rates are based on how much the district needs to provide it. On the other hand, the State is mandating a 20% reduction in water use by 2020. So the less water you use, the more the district has to charge for the water to keep the income levels the same.
Last year the District started a program of providing a reduced rate on water for low income residents. So far residents who are in the sewer district do not get a price break. I asked Bert if revenues were being sought to help out low income sewer users. Bert said they would see how the water program is working over the last six months, and consider providing a similar program for sewer users in September.
I was disappointed by the low turnout for this meeting, but it would have been helpful to have the staff reports online in advance. Sue Stephenson, Community Affairs Supervisor, told me the District will be considering that in their Specific Plan, which will be on the Agenda for the next regular Board meeting on June 7, 2011. So that's another one I plan to attend.
I also want to ask about the status is of putting the meetings on TV30. When I asked the Chamber of Commerce to put the Mayor's State of the City address on TV30, the cost was only $500 for two people to tape it. The cost of taping District meetings should be about the same, or $1000 a month. More residents might take an interest in what happens at the District if the meetings were available to view online.