Rancho Water board postpones rate increases until July 2021

Staff and members of the Rancho California Water District board decide to extend a deferral of rate increases within the district until July 2021 because of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, during the virtual board meeting held Thursday, Aug. 13. Valley News/Courtesy photo

During a Thursday, Aug. 13, meeting impacted heavily by the sudden death of Danny Martin, senior vice president of Rancho California Water District, earlier in the week, the board held a moment of silence and agreed to defer rate increases toward district customers until the fiscal year 2021-2022.

The move was an extension of a postponement the board approved back in March, a move Martin was thoroughly in favor of, and the deferral was set to expire in January 2021. Now, no rate increases will be considered until July 2021.

“On behalf of Danny Martin, he was very proud of this, I would like to make the motion that we do no rate increase through June of 2021,” president Bill Wilson proposed.

Vice president Angel Garcia seconded the motion and the proposal was passed unanimously.

“This action is a follow-up to a discussion and action item the board had in March of this year when COVID-19 hit and restrictions were first applied,” Rick Aragon, assistant general manager of Rancho Water, said in Thursday’s staff recommendation to the board.

Aragon said that at the time of the first deferral, it was assumed that the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions would be lessened by early fall and that the board could reconsider rate increases.

“It is apparent now that, that did not happen and at least for the time being, the COVID-19 numbers and up,” Aragon said. “If you’re watching the news, certainly the economic impacts are lasting, unemployment is still at record levels. Our community is still very much affected by this.”

Aragon said the deferral would reduce the district’s revenue by more than $858,000, but he said the district had a good fiscal year recently.

“We had less demand, which means we saved on imported water,” he said. “Worst case scenario there are funds which are dedicated for this purpose, set aside to cover it. Fortunately, we’re working on refinancing right now that can save anywhere from $1.6 and $2 million – which can more than cover this amount. The intended plan is to use refinancing to cover this.”

The board also approved the consent calendar which included the approval of a resolution authorizing acceptance of a grant award through the Department of Water Resources Proposition 1; approved the purchase of a dump truck and excavator; approved a request by Southern California Edison for a grant of easement; approved an award agreement for professional services for the Pump Station Asset Management Program and budgeted contract items of more than $50,000, including considering approval of an award agreement for the 2020 Urban Water Management Plan and for the Cole Creek Recycled Water Pond Relining.

The board also recognize Rancho Water employee Jeff Dixon for receiving the Association of California Water Agencies Joint Powers Insurance Authority LaBounty Safety Award for his research and obtaining of halo lights that fit around a hardhat to provide workers light without the use of a flashlight.

“It also makes the employee visible for up to a half-mile away,” Eva Plajzer, assistant general manager of Rancho Water, told the board. “Thank you to Jeff, great work, we really want to appreciate and honor Jeff for his effort and tenacious research of this item.”

At the end of the board meeting, each of the members shared stories of their experiences with Martin.

“So full of life, a very good friend, curiosity and an opinion about just about everything,” Carol Lee Brady, vice president of Rancho Water, said. “Passionate in his beliefs, fearless in expressing and advocating for them. He had a gift for making each and every one of us feel like we were his best friend. But we all know his dog Momo really was.

“As a colleague on the board, I will always be grateful for his insights and his fierce loyalty and his mentorship. He will be missed,” she said.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.