March 12, 2013
Tim Dewar, firstname.lastname@example.org
The battle to determine who will supply water to Ojai customers will hit another apex tonight when the Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD) board of directors will likely vote on the proposed buyout of Golden State Water Company’s (GSWC) Ojai service area.
But the local, volunteer group leading the effort to unseat the privately owned company in favor of the CMWD is still in high gear. Ojai Friends of Locally Owned Water (F.L.O.W.) members hosted a meeting Thursday at the Ojai Valley Inn to help customers understand how the buyout would impact them prior to going in to tonight’s meeting.
“The key is to understand that this is not our proposal. This is our analysis of someone else’s proposal,” F.L.O.W. member Ryan Blatz told the 50 audience members. “We are not trying to force this down anyone’s throat. We are a group of concerned citizens trying to do what’s right. If it’s not right, we don’t want to do it.
Blatz explained that there are three phases included in the CMWD proposal: pre-acquisition, acquisition and post-acquisition. The first phase, includes between $2- and $5 million for legal fees and consulting work to prepare the bond for a vote.
If the bond does not pass, CMWD will not be reimbursed for its acquisition costs to that point.
The second phase, Blatz stated, are acquisition costs, which are estimated to be between $21.4 million and $36.2 million. This is the money that would be allocated to purchase GSWC’s physical assets. If the bond passes, this amount would be determined either by a settlement between the CMWD and GSWC or by a jury if a settlement could not be reached and the eminent domain process was needed.
Post-acquisition costs are set at $17.8 million for upgrades and repairs to the system. “These are repairs that Golden State wants to do over 10 years. Casitas wants to do much faster,” Blatz noted.
GSWC representatives have repeatedly claimed that their Ojai operation is not for sale. Blatz, however, said because of the franchise agreement GSWC signed with the city of Ojai whether they think they are for sale is irrelevant. “They agreed to this process (eminent domain) when they came here,” added Blatz.
F.L.O.W. member Richard Hajas explained to the audience that some ratepayers would not save money the first year and might not see savings for a few years, but he is confident that every customer would eventually save money as a Casitas customer.
“We looked at the last 10 years of charges for an average customer. In 2003, they were paying $73.86 bi-monthly with Golden State and would have paid $50.75 with Casitas. In 2012, that same customer would have paid $168.88 with Golden State and $65.57 with Casitas,” Hajas explained. That resulted in increases of $95.02 bimonthly in the Golden State bill and $14.82 in the Casitas bill.
Projecting those numbers 10 years into the future, Hajas continued that the Golden State ratepayer’s bill would increase another $192.28 bi-monthly from $168.88 to $364.16 while a Casitas customer would see an increase of $34.31 bi-monthly from $65.77 to $100.08.
The projected numbers for Golden State ratepayers, he added, do not take into account many of the needed system repairs that are included in the Casitas bond’s post-acquisition amounts.
F.L.O.W. members also encouraged everyone to think of the impact on the community overall. Because they likely will be exempt from the bond, Hajas said the Ojai Unified School District would save $66,000 in the first year on its water rates and the city of Ojai, which pays Golden State for the water it uses in the city’s parks, would save $53,000. Future savings for each organization, he added, would likely be in the $1- to $1.2 million range over 10 years.
“Not only can we get rid of Golden State, but the community can save about $680,000 in the first year,” Blatz explained. “In two to three years, almost every property owner will save money. In 10 years, EVERY property owner will save money.”
Camille Cronk said she didn’t feel it was fair to apportion the bond based on the size of the property. Steve Kraus added that the bond amounts that would be levied are not equitable between the different categories of property sizes. Jerry Conrow indicated concern about the lender having everyone’s property in Ojai as collateral. He asserted that CMWD has not said what rates former GSWC ratepayers would be charged.
Blatz disagreed with Conrow, saying that Casitas has included in its proposal numerous charts and information indicating that GSWC customers would be charged the same rates as current CMWD customers.
Tonight’s meeting will be held at the Matilija Junior High School auditorium starting at 6 p.m. Board members are expected to determine whether to move forward with the buyout attempt by scheduling a bond election. If it decides to move forward, the Board will have to set a date for the election, that will have to be held within the next 90 days and it will have to decide whether to hold a mail-in or physical election.
This story was updated March 13 at 10:37 a.m. to include a correction regarding who would pay for costs if the bond passes.