If you live in the Valley, you know how important the proper management and conservation of water is, especially during these times of drought.
The local public entity charged with these functions is the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, Improvement District No. 1, and three of the five seats on the ID1 board are up for election in November.
Many of us are concerned with the current fee structure for water use, because it is neither fair nor equitable, and provides a disincentive to save water.
My husband and I are both seniors and we pay a flat meter charge of $255 per month, plus $4.80 per 100 cubic feet of water we use. However, the more water we use, the cheaper it gets. The $4.80 charge drops to $1.98 per 100 cubic feet once we go over 125 units. How can that possibly encourage users to be frugal with water?
We are also concerned with where our money is going and how it’s being spent. ID1 has a general manager whose base salary of $230,665 is more than the county sheriff’s. Because the manager lives in Santa Barbara, he also has a car provided by ID1, and other health and retirement benefits that are excessive for such a small water district, which has only 15 employees.
ID1 has three large law firms on retainer, as well as its own in-house lawyer, and spends hundreds of thousands of dollars of public funds on attorney fees in questionable legal battles. One of the more shocking examples was the recent attempt to remove from the ballot two candidates for the ID1 board, which proved unsuccessful. But the attorneys fees expended in that failed attempt came from the pockets of ratepayers.
In addition, there are serious problems with the level of customer service. Customers are afraid to question or complain because of ID1’s well-deserved reputation for retaliation and its virtual monopoly on local water supplies. ID1 staff have lost sight of the fact that they’re there to serve the public, not the other way around.
A recent example of ID1’s disregard for the community it serves occurred in April, when Ballard’s Oak Hill Cemetery was faced with a 560-percent increase in its water bill. The cemetery appealed the decision, the ID1 board denied the appeal, and the cemetery was forced to drill a well at a cost of $100,000.
These issues affect the whole Valley, not just ID1’s direct customers. If you buy your water from the city of Solvang, belong to a mutual water district, or have a private well, what ID1 does in the future will still affect you. ID1 will influence how water use from all sources will be regulated for decades to come, with profound effects throughout the whole Valley.
If you want to be a well-informed voter, please attend the public forum at St. Mark’s in Los Olivos on Thursday, Sept. 27, from 7-9:30 p.m. Come and listen to the candidates, ask questions, do your due diligence, and recognize the enormity of the issues that will be facing ID1 in the future. If you do, I hope you will join me in voting for a change at ID1 by electing Allen Anderson at-large; Brian Schultz, Division 3; and Anita Finifrock, Division 2 in November. These candidates have fresh ideas on how to fix what’s wrong at ID1.