The Calaveras County Water District voted to raise its rates July 10, but some residents aren’t ready to swallow it. They’re looking for options – for a way to combat what they perceive as an unjust increase.
During the special meeting to raise rates, Julie Hollars of Vallecito approached the board and asked about the possibility of disconnecting from the district’s system. She is a military veteran raising a daughter, and she said the rate increases would make services too expensive.
“I’m one of those low-income people,” she explained at the meeting. “I can’t afford this increase, and I refuse to lose my house over this increase.”
She lives on a property with more than a dozen acres, and she would like to install a septic system, thereby negating her need for outside sewer services.
“Let me pay my (septic) system off and be done with them,” she said.
Part of the issue for Hollars is she feels the district broke a promise, and she’s ready to take action on behalf of herself and her neighbors.
“We all have plenty of property, and we were all mandated to hook up,” she said. “But we were also told there wouldn’t be any increases (except for normal inflation).”
The first course of action for Hollars will likely take her back to the board.
“If somebody wants to put in an onsite wastewater treatment center (septic), they would need to approach CCWD, because it’s their zone of influence,” explained Brian Moss, director of environmental health for Calaveras County. “We cannot issue a permit for a system that’s inside a zone of influence.”
Attempts to contact Mitch Dion, the district’s general manager, were unsuccessful, but for longtime member of the board of directors, Jeff Davidson, the economics of the proposal don’t make much financial sense.
“I think when (residents) go out and get the costs associated with (installing) these things, both of those ticket items (sewer and well) are going to be way more expensive than paying a monthly rate and paying somebody else to maintain that system.
“Personally, if she had the ability to do it, I don’t care if she (installed a septic) or not.”
However, Davidson didn’t think the initial decision to free her from the district relied on the directors.
“As far as I know, it doesn’t get to the directors’ level,” he continued. “Staff might be able to make that decision, but I don’t know. I’m not positive.”
Even if Hollars did get approval from the district, more hurdles would await her. She’d need to work with Calaveras County Environmental Health to meet all the requirements of septic installation. Then, she would have to approach the county’s regulatory agency for the final endorsement since a county ordinance is in place mandating district services, once the infrastructure is installed. To opt out, a ‘sphere of influence’ amendment would be required.
“The problem is that because of some of our policies, we may have a hard time approving it,” said John Benoit, executive officer for LAFCO. “They’ll have to go through quite a bit of bureaucratic red tape.”
Benoit estimated the additional costs associated with such an appeal would exceed $10,000, in order to fund the comprehensive studies and land surveys required for approval.
“Somebody, if they’ve got a lot of money and want to do it, they’re welcome to apply,” he said, while acknowledging the unlikelihood of success. “It’s like winning the lottery. It’s probably those type of odds … district detachments that are hostile, where the district doesn’t support it, are very rare.
“It would be setting a precedent and a policy for LAFCO, so (the board) would have to think long and hard about it.”
Despite the long odds, Hollars is proceeding undeterred, and she’s inspired to do so for all the other low-income folks who are unable to take action of their own.
“That’s what angers me most,” she said. “Even if I do get out of (the district), there’s still 30 percent of our retired seniors living on low incomes.”
She’s going to take the first step by writing a formal letter to the water district, “and I’ll work it to where they’ll have to do a response.”
And if it’s a denial?
“It better be a documented rationale, and not a ‘We don’t want you to do it’ response.”