Tuesday, 09 August 2022

Barnes: Ratepayer responds to Clearlake Oaks Water District manager

In rebuttal to a recent front-page local paper article interview with Darin McCosker, Clearlake Oaks Water District manager, I believe another point of view is in order.

It is true that the Clearlake Oaks Water District has not had a substantial rate increase in several years. The district may need more than the 3 percent rate increase recently imposed.

When I heard about a proposal for a rate increase to be discussed in a special board meeting on May 7, I started attending water company board meetings. It was stated by the manager at the special meeting that without the requested rate increase the water district would be bankrupt in a couple of months. (Initially the proposed increase was 50 percent; now it is proposed to be 39.4 percent.) If you count the fact there will no longer be 200 cubic feet of water included in the base rate there will actually be a 44-percent increase for water for residential service.

In attending board meetings, I do not see any real effort on the part of the water district board or the manager to control district spending. In fact, shortly after the special meeting on May 7, a “special projects coordinator” position was created and filled. On the June 18 board agenda one of the board members had placed a proposal to initiate a hiring freeze and a salary freeze. That board member made a motion to initiate a hiring freeze and a second motion to initiate a salary freeze, neither motion was seconded nor discussed!

The manager said ratepayers have questioned whether or not $200,000 in district funds is missing or unaccounted for and he mentioned some unforeseen expenses for sludge removal at the wastewater treatment plant as an explanation as to where that money was spent. Yet at both the 5/7/08 and the 6/18/08 meetings, missing or accounted for funds of about $200,000 were mentioned and the simplified operating budgets in the agenda packets included an amount labeled “missing depreciation” in the amount of $216,280. However you look at it, there are some serious budget discrepancies that need to be worked out! At the most recent July 16 meeting no budget figures were included in the agenda packet.

It is noteworthy that there has not been a state-mandated annual audit of the water district since 2004-05.

The water district manager stated he is doing three jobs and getting only one salary. I believe his salary is highly competitive in Lake County’s job market, as are all the salaries and benefits paid at the Clearlake Oaks Water District.

I think ratepayers need to be concerned about what happens if the water company goes bankrupt. As I understand it, the state would step in and most likely request County Special Districts to take over. We are in crisis here but I do believe there are many questions that need to be answered and I would encourage people to attend the public hearing scheduled for Saturday, August 16, at 7 p.m. at the Grange Building on Highway 20.

In the meantime, any protests to the rate increase need to be mailed or delivered to the Water District office at P.O. Box 709 or 12952 East Highway 20, Clearlake Oaks, CA 95423. Be sure to include your parcel description (number and/or physical address) and your legal name as it appears on the parcel.

Judy Barnes lives in Clearlake Oaks.


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