The Rancho Santa Fe Association is pushing back against the Santa Fe Irrigation District’s proposed water rate increases. The water district is proposing three percent water rate increases over the next three years and is scheduled to vote at a Dec. 20 hearing. If approved, the new rate would be implemented on Jan. 1.
“The Rancho Santa Fe Association is protesting the rates,” said RSF Association Manager Christy Whalen at the Nov. 1 Association board meeting. “We are one of the largest users in the district and we are looking for a more equitable rate structure.”
Since 2017, the Association has committed funds for legal assistance and a water rate consultant with its ad hoc committee on water rates, an effort to convince the water board to craft a plan that is fairer for its members. Residents of the coastal portion of the Santa Fe Irrigation District (SFID) generally have smaller lot sizes and use less water than Rancho Santa Fe, where lot sizes are larger and water consumption is higher. Rancho Santa Fe officials have long felt that with the water district's tiered rates, inland residents are “subsidizing” rates for coastal residents—the Association would like to see a single rate for all customers.
According to Whalen, the Association has encouraged its members to submit written protest forms and volunteers have been at the post office gathering signatures as well.
Per Proposition 218, if a majority of the property owners in the district are against the rate increases (about 3,253 written ballots would be required), the board cannot move forward with the increases.The last time SFID raised the rates in May 2016, they received a record 1,324 written protests, falling short of the 50 percent plus one threshold.
All protest forms have to be turned in prior to the public comment portion of the SFID public hearing.
The Association gave members the option to hand-deliver or mail forms direct to SFID or through the Association—at the Nov. 1 meeting, Whalen said they had received over 100 forms the day before.
The Association has also stated that it will consider legal action if the rate increases are approved.
Santa Fe Irrigation District has sought community input on the proposed rates since March 2018, holding a series of public workshops to identify rate setting practices, organizational financial strategies and the legal aspects of rate setting. SFID hired an independent rate consultant to determine how best to meet its revenue requirements and to keep pace with projected cost increases over a three-year period. Based on the evaluation, the district determined that rate adjustments and increases are necessary.
On Sept. 20 the SFID board voted 3-2 to move forward with the rate plan and hold the public hearing, with members Marlene King and Ken Dunford in opposition. At a special board meeting on Oct. 26, the SFID board voted to reissue the Prop 218 notice to provide complete transparency on where to mail the protest form by including the district’s mailing address. As a result, action was also taken to delay the public hearing from Nov. 15 to Dec. 20.
While there is a three percent overall increase for the district, not all customers will see their bill increase by three percent as it is based on individual customer usage. The new rate plan will include only two tiers, down from the current four-tier rate structure, which the SFID believes represents a compromise and also sends a conservation message.
“The district is committed to providing the highest quality services at the lowest possible rates for its customers,” according to SFID’s hearing notice. “While the district continually strives for cost reductions and better utilization of the assets it holds, it also requires rate adjustments to continue replacement of capital infrastructure, keep pace with rising costs on materials to treat and deliver water, compensate employees to attract and maintain a high-performing team, and to mitigate rising imported water prices, among other reasons.”