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New rate calculator out for proposed Paso water district costs 

A handy-dandy new online program is now available to help people atop the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin figure out what a proposed water district would cost them.

The assessment rate calculator, as it’s called, was unveiled by the group CALM the Basin, or Citizens Advocating for Local Management of the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. The group—a relatively new actor in the ongoing political fracas of San Luis Obispo County and local stakeholders sorting out how to manage the ailing basin—is advocating for the formation of a water district.

The proposed district’s formation is contentious, drawing sharply different opinions on how the basin should be managed—if at all—who should manage it, and how it should be paid for. SLO County signed on as the applicant, and after supervisors approved an assessment rate structure on Aug. 18, the application is currently under review by the SLO County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO).

Randy Diffenbaugh, a member of CALM’s steering committee, told New Times that the calculator is intended to help people sort out what the possible formation of the district would mean for them on a basic financial level.

“It’s our idea of being able to help keep people educated on to what is going to happen to them based on the decision’s outcome,” Diffenbaugh said. “It makes it that simple widget, and I think in today’s day and age people like the simple widget.”

As proposed, a nine-member board will govern the district, with directors selected from different brackets of land ownership. The district will cost an estimated $950,000 per year to operate. To pay for it, those who own the approximately 6,400 parcels within the district boundary will be assessed based on how much property they have and how it’s used.

Each property will be assessed with an annual base fee: $20 for a single-family residence and $40 for a multi-family residence; $100 for commercial, industrial, and government use; and $10 for a vacant property. In addition, agricultural parcels will be assessed 25 cents per acre for non-irrigated agriculture and $18 per acre for irrigated agriculture. These numbers are subject to change during the LAFCO review process.

Per that funding scheme, 77 percent of the costs will be paid for by irrigated agriculture and 23 percent paid for by residential.

In July, CALM announced the results of a 10-question survey it conducted, which said that 70 percent of residents supported management by a local water district.

Asked if CALM’s support for a district makes for a biased motivation behind the rate calculator, Diffenbaugh said that the group simply hopes to give people some real information to use when the district is voted on in March 2016.

“There’s a lot of misinformation, disinformation, paranoia, however you want to classify it, and I think it changes according to different individuals and groups,” Diffenbaugh said. “You can sit on the other side of the fence, but the facts help make it a lot less personal.”

To see the rate calculator, go to CALM’s website at calmthebasin.org.

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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