At a joint meeting of the San Lorenzo Valley and Lompico water districts Friday, Jan. 25, it became clear that the uncertain costs of merging the districts would be a stumbling block in negotiations.
Committees from both district boards met at the San Lorenzo Valley Water District Headquarters in Boulder Creek to discuss the possibility of folding Lompico County Water District, which has 500 connections, into the 7,300-connection SLV district.
Terry Vierra and Jim Rapoza, the president and vice president of the SLV board, were in attendance with General Manager Jim Mueller and Operations Manager Rick Rodgers.
Lois Henry, the Lompico board president, and Rick Harrington, a board member, represented the smaller district.
During the meeting, Henry and Harrington both lobbied for San Lorenzo Valley to start the process of consolidation as soon as possible.
They said continuing to operate the Lompico district independently, including all necessary repairs and the hiring of a general manager, would require increases to water rates that are already the highest in the county.
“We need to know if we’re going to move forward,” Henry said. “We might bleed to death eventually. I don’t think the county would be too into that.”
Harrington argued that Lompico residents would likely agree to pass municipal bonds to pay for upgrades in the aging water system if SLV assumed Lompico’s customers, so costs for existing SLV customers would not rise.
But SLV representatives said they needed to know more before agreeing to a merger.
“We’re not going to go into this on goodwill alone or blindfolded, because that’s not the right thing to do,” Vierra said.
Vierra said his constituents wanted a study done on the actual expense of SLV assuming Lompico’s operation, but he believed Lompico, as the petitioner, should pay for the study — likely to cost tens of thousands of dollars.
In addition, Rapoza said the actual cost of merging with Lompico could not be determined, because the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and California Department of Fish and Game would likely take a hard look at Lompico’s water supply if it tried to merge with SLV.
Depending on well production and the time of year, the smaller district draws a substantial amount of water from the creeks in the canyon. Studies and possible infrastructure changes could prove expensive if NOAA and Fish and Game have concerns.
John Ricker, the coordinator of the Santa Cruz County Water Resources Program, was in the audience and told board members that SLV was likely to be studied by NOAA after the agency finished with ongoing City of Santa Cruz water issues.
Also hanging over the negotiation is a $741,000 bill from the California Public Employees Retirement System, because Lompico contributed too little each year before dropping the public retirement funding system in 2010.
Lompico residents re-elected three pro-merger incumbents over three anti-merger candidates in the Nov. 6 election, solidifying the notion that most residents of the canyon wish to merge with SLV.
However, SLV’s board is not sure if it can afford to take on management of the smaller system if the ratepayers can’t support the district by themselves.
In the audience Friday were 5th District Supervisor Bruce McPherson and Pat McCormick, the executive officer of the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission.
Both boards agreed to meet March 1 with McPherson’s office to see if there is a way for county staff members or grant money to support a study into the costs of merging the two districts. The time and location of that meeting had not been set as of press time.
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