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Water and sewer rate hikes pass in Cambria despite public opposition 

Five hundred Cambria residents turned in protest forms opposing water and sewer cost increases, but it wasn't enough to stop the rate hike.

The Cambria Community Services District (CCSD) held a hearing during its May 19 meeting to gather community input about the increases, which will raise water rates by 19.2 percent and sewer services by 24.2 percent spread out over the next three years, plus inflationary adjustments for two years after that.

click to enlarge BIGGER BILLS The Cambria Community Services District passed a water and sewer rate increase spread out over the next three years, but some locals aren't happy about it. - GRAPHIC BY LENI LITONJUA, DATA FROM CCSD
  • Graphic By Leni Litonjua, Data From Ccsd
  • BIGGER BILLS The Cambria Community Services District passed a water and sewer rate increase spread out over the next three years, but some locals aren't happy about it.

Up until the hearing began, the CCSD received protest forms from community members, as is required by Proposition 218 whenever a rate increase is on the table. To overturn a proposed increase, more than 50 percent of customers must turn in a form, which for the CCSD would amount to at least 1,979 protestors.

Among those protesting was Cambria resident Christine Heinrichs, a vocal advocate for more transparency in the district's financial dealings. She lamented the money that CCSD spent to build a water reclamation facility eight years ago under the state's emergency drought declaration. It still hasn't been approved for general, non-emergency use by the county.

"[The water reclamation facility] probably cost over $20 million, but the district didn't keep track of costs for the most expensive project Cambria has ever taken on. The district still is unable to account for how the money was spent," Heinrichs said as she addressed the board. "The district is still—eight years after the project was built—unable to complete the required application for a coastal development permit."

Heinrichs said the district should have instead spent money from past rate increases on water and wastewater infrastructure maintenance—which the board is now promising to spend the money from the upcoming rate increase on.

With only about 500 forms received, the Proposition 218 protest failed and the board voted 5-0 to pass a resolution confirming the rate increases—but not without some hiccups first.

After determining that there weren't enough protest forms to overturn the proposed increase, the board moved to pass the resolution. But the board then discovered that the resolution had a random F printed in the third paragraph of the document, so board President Don Howell asked to "delete the extraneous F."

Then the board discovered that the resolution was missing the section about adjusting rates for inflation after the first three years of increases, so District Counsel Timothy Carmel had to add that in. Additionally, a small group of commercial customers were sent the wrong information in their Proposition 218 notice, so they will have a separate hearing in June.

Some citizens weren't happy with all the mistakes.

"I appreciate all your energy but it's really really difficult to watch all of this," Cambria resident Laura Swartz said during public comment, which was opened and closed multiple times due to the various reiterations of the resolution. "Stuff hasn't been proofread and then after the protest then you change the resolutions ... I mean, I don't think this is done properly in my opinion."

Swartz was concerned that there was no limit to how much rates could increase from inflation.

"I think it would have been much more appropriate to put some type of cap on it so that we know what we're living with," she said.

In response to Swartz's comment, CCSD Boardmember Cindy Steidel asked Carmel, the district's legal counsel, to address "the fact that you can't put a cap on inflationary rates."

Carmel clarified that the board actually could have put a cap on it, "but you didn't, and the notice that went out didn't have one," to which Steidel replied, "Oh."

Boardmember Harry Farmer told New Times after the meeting that he "reluctantly voted for the rate increase because we need the funds to make the major improvements at the sewer plant."

"I totally understand the concerns of the members of this community with regard to how the rate increase monies have been spent and ... their skepticism as to how monies will be spent in the future," Farmer said after the motion passed at the May 19 meeting. "I believe we have an obligation to the ratepayers that hasn't really been addressed in the past." Δ

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