Saturday, 25 May 2024

Clearlake Oaks water board takes increase proposal to community Saturday

CLEARLAKE OAKS – The Clearlake Oaks County Water District Board will take a new rate proposal to the community on Saturday, and this time its hoping for a better response from ratepayers.


At the board's Thursday night meeting, directors voted unanimously to present the 17.7-percent base rate increase at a community meeting that will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Northshore Fire District's Clearlake Oaks firehouse on Highway 20.


In August, the board held a meeting in which they presented a proposal for a nearly 40-percent increase along with some lesser hike options to ratepayers. That meeting saw community members shouting at the board, prompting then-board Vice President Mike Anisman to leave. Mike Benjamin began a recall drive against Anisman and board member Pat Shaver, who did not attend the meeting.


Since then, Anisman, Shaver and board President Helen Locke have resigned. Benjamin has since been appointed to the board and is now president.


On Thursday, the board – which includes Frank Toney and Harry Chase – voted unanimously to appoint Judy Heeszel to the fill one of two remaining vacancies. Heeszel was one of several people seeking the appointment, among them Dena Barron, Lee Wisdom and Lowell Estep.


Heeszel began attending board meetings regularly this summer when concerns about the district's financials and the resulting initial rate hike proposal became hot topics around Clearlake Oaks. Since then she has served on the district's finance committee, which she said has taught her a lot. "My whole attitude has changed."


Another board vacancy will be filled at the board's Nov. 20 meeting.


Heeszel and her fellow board members have significant challenges ahead. The district has more than $200,000 in debt currently, with more than $152,000 of that being old debt, said Jana Saccato, the district's secretary.


Benjamin said payroll and expenses are going down but the district is still short about $10,000 a month.


He said the rate proposal, which will take the base water and sewer rate from $56.24 to $66.19 per month per single family dwelling, was carefully crafted to have as little impact as possible on district customers. Overall, customers should not see more than a $9.95 monthly increase. The price of water will not go up.


"You're not going to pay any more for water, you're not going to pay any more for sewer," said Benjamin.


Besides catching the district up on a monthly basis, Benjamin said the increased revenues from the proposed rate hike should help the district slowly rebuild its reserves "as painlessly as possible." Those reserves once totaled about $1.3 million but were drained as the district took on capital improvements while having no rate hikes over several years, as Lake County News has reported.


Audits of the district's books are now under way, according to General Manager Darin McCosker.


Benjamin said the plan is to take the results of the audits back to ratepayers in a year, give them an update on the district's financial situation and decide what needs to be done next.


If the community approves the raise in rates, it would go into effect Nov. 1, said Benjamin.


Along with that, the district has pledged to put a wage and hiring freeze into effect for its employees for the next year, said Benjamin. "These are guarantees we're going to make to the community."


Benjamin said the board also is looking at its procedures, employee benefits and wage packages to find other ways of reducing costs.


Board members and district staff said the creation of the finance committee has made a huge difference in operations and the ability to focus on the financial challenges. McCosker, in particular, said it had taken a lot of pain out of his job.


Toney thanked Benjamin and fellow board members for forming the committee, which he said he had proposed six months ago but which the previous board had shot down.


The finance committee met once a week for seven weeks straight, up until this last Tuesday, each meeting lasting about three hours as members works on the rate proposal.


The committee still has a lot to do in looking at other ways to bring the district's finances into better shape, said Benjamin.


The group will take a little break for a while, as the focus now shifts to getting the rate hike approved.


Looking forward to Saturday's meeting, Benjamin said, "We're hoping for a completely different response from what there was the last time."


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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