Ratepayers need answers from FPUD

I intended to write earlier to provide feedback to the huge water price increases by FPUD, but was so shocked at the proposed increases of from 99 percent to 124 percent over five years,  that I needed more time for research.

The northern California water reservoirs are completely full from the record setting rainfall last year. It is projected that 2018 may be another year of La Nina weather conditions that bring massive rainfall.

The current FPUD water prices have forced more agricultural farmers out of business in 2016/17 in the Fallbrook area. I can’t imagine how many more will be forced out with the increases proposed. When fixed rate increases are included to water pricing, the minimum increase over five years will be 99 percent. If the AG water discount is removed in 2020, the increase will be 124 percent. Avocado farming and the yearly avocado festival in Fallbrook are important for the local economy. There is a link between water prices and the survival of avocado farming.

The FPUD letter of Aug. 24 quotes Proposition 218 as reason to increase rates. “Utilities that do not develop their rates using a cost-of-service study have exposure to litigation.” However, Prop 218, promoted by Howard Jarvis, was intended to contain utility increases and taxes by local and state jurisdictions. It was not intended to be used as an excuse to raise rates. Cost of service studies were part of Prop. 218 to ensure that utility increases weren’t beyond the cost to deliver.

After the passage of Prop 218, the tier pricing used by water districts was considered a violation of 218 because those prices were in excess of cost to deliver. However, the court decided that because water conservation was given as the reason for the higher tier pricing, the utilities were granted an exemption for higher than delivery costs in tier pricing. The only litigation under Prop. 218 has been where utilities charged more than the cost to deliver services. I’m sure that Howard Jarvis would be shocked to learn that utilities were using the logic behind Prop. 218 as an excuse to increase water rates, when the containment of utility costs was always the intent of 218.

I suppose that as more farmers have to turn off their water to crops and avocado groves, the FPUD water prices will go higher to make up for fewer customers. It’s just sad.

The San Diego County Water Authority wholesale rate to FPUD appears to be increasing 8 percent in 2018 according to an information officer at FPUD. Does FPUD water price for 2018 really need to increase 16 percent?

FPUD is running a monopoly, but we ratepayers are the owners of our public utility so our voices must be heard. Do we want to destroy confidence in the future of our local economy – leaving farm growers and packing houses in bankruptcy? We need to get all the answers before accepting reckless long-term water price increases. Competition should be encouraged, and not eliminated.

Careful planning and conservative decisions may make a five-year plan for water rate hikes unnecessary. Fallbrook residents must help guide our district’s decision-making. One Fallbrook grove owner pointed out that the California Avocado Commission successfully negotiated reduced AG water rates in Ventura County Waterworks District 1 for 2017. The outcome was a 25 percent reduction from the proposed water rate hike. Let’s make smart and careful choices that preserve the quality of life we have here.

Suzanne Paulsrude

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