Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Cataldo citizens concerned over water budget increase

Staff Reporter | September 20, 2022 5:10 AM

KINGSTON — The small Cataldo Water District office was filled with community members gathering to express their concerns to the board of directors concerning increased rates on their water bill, questions about the budget, and curiosities surrounding the district’s board and employees during a public meeting last week.

The main point of contention was the water bill rate increase, where customers saw their monthly bills go from $28 per month to $45 plus an additional $1.50 for every 1,000 gallons of water used. A roughly 60% increase from what they had previously been paying.

This is a big change for customers who had been paying less while receiving their first 10,000 gallons of water per month free under previous budgets.

Karen Maravilla explained how it costs the water district $2.08 for every 1,000 gallons of water pumped, therefore allowing a customer to receive 10,000 gallons for free costs the district $20.80.

This means that when customers were paying $28 per month and receiving their first 10,000 gallons at no extra charge, they were only making $7.20 per customer. With 250 customers, this $20.80 adds up quickly.

One of the community members spoke up at the meeting, explaining, “I need the rates explained as far as the flat rate, I didn’t feel like the letter explained it very well when it was mailed out. The second question, is the audit started? My third issue is billing. You went from three months to one month, and at .$60 a stamp, you guys are spending way too much money when you can do it in three months. I understand that you need the cash flow. I get that. But I think that you could save money, by going back to quarterly. There are my three questions. I need rates explained, I want to know the auditing process, and I want to go back to the three month billing process.”

While rates and budgeting dominated much of last week’s meeting, the Cataldo Water District was in flux for much of 2022 when the board began to experience mass turnover. Beginning in January of this year, a series of unfortunate meetings took place, starting with a discussion regarding the district clerk and the bookkeeping system that was in place.

Subsequently, two board members resigned after that meeting in January.

The board was able to replace the resigned members in February and it was at this meeting that – according to meeting minutes – rate increases first became a discussion topic.

Maravilla herself was brought on in March and began diving into the recent meeting minutes in order to continue to keep current with the board’s business and activities – while also keeping them within the laws laid out in Idaho code.

“I told the board that if we have a rate increase of over 5% we have to have a public hearing,” said Maravilla.

The rate increase and budget were again discussion topics during April and May’s meetings, as the board began exploring the numbers and planning the expenses.

Maravilla explained that, “the bulk of the increases to the budget are maintenance and repairs. Our water treatment prices have increased, the water test went up 60%. Meter pricing went up 35-45%.”

She expressed that no one wanted to raise rates, but when you look at the costs of everything across the board it becomes apparent that the former rate was not going to allow the district to operate for much longer before dramatic measures would be taken – likely from higher governing bodies.

The board changed members again in June, as the recently appointed ‘new’ board members quit. A special meeting was held in July to appoint new board members and in August the fifth member was appointed, completing the board.

An issue that the inconsistency with the board can be that a previous board can make decisions that the current board was not involved in. Therefore, certain questions can be difficult to answer by current board members, which can be frustrating for customers.

This includes previous budgets that haven’t been audited, and come without guiding notes or line items to explain why things were done a specific way.

Maravilla and the other part-time Clerk Robin Hei welcome community members who have concerns and questions to make an appointment to discuss the budget line item by line item. If you are having trouble paying your water bill, the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare helps families in Idaho pay their water and wastewater bills. Visit https://healthandwelfare.idaho.gov for more information.

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