Stephanie Hoops, shoops@VenturaCountyStar.com
property tax money that Ventura County's residents paid to keep water
flowing efficiently to their homes and businesses is being seized by the
state to cover its budget deficit next year, which most probably means
higher water rates for residents.
Water District is losing about $4 million of its $9 million operating
budget. It is the biggest wholesale seller of water in Ventura County,
delivering water through 130 miles of pipe to retailers serving about 75
percent of Ventura County's population.
If Calleguas raises
rates, the retailers follow, and consumers pay more. How much more will
vary because the retailers are waiting for their boards of directors to
decide how to handle the situation.
Water officials are
calling it a raid, and it's happening to water districts across the
"This is in
effect a hidden tax increase," said Steve Hall, executive director
of the Association of California Water Agencies. "The Legislature
got increased tax revenues and ultimately the way they will do that is
by seeing water and sewer rates go up dramatically -- but only for some
people. I don't think it's a fair distribution. The whole idea is to
shift the blame."
estimating the impact to be an annual increase of $20 to $30 per family.
Retailers are expecting to pay Calleguas about 10 percent more for
districts across the state are looking at even larger fee increases. In
Fallbrook in San Diego County, homeowners were warned a $20 monthly
increase in their combined sewer and water bills was possible, according
to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Simi Valley Public
Works Director Tim Nanson said any possible increase would be up to the
The Camarosa Water
District had a similar answer.
made any decisions yet," said Richard Hajas, general manager of the
district. "We're trying to work this out."
Don Nelson, Public
Works director for the city of Thousand Oaks, estimates the average
customer will see a $2.10 increase per month if Calleguas has to raise
prices 10 percent. The city has to see what it can pull from its
reserves first, however.
targeted by the state because it's an enterprise district. Enterprise
districts operate like businesses, charging just the customers who use
the services, not everyone in the community. District voters set up the
organization in 1953 to increase land value and allow for future
"It's the view
amongst some people up in Sacramento that your tax money belongs to
them," said Don Kendall, general manager of Calleguas. "They
view enterprise districts as entities and say, 'You can just raise your
rates and recoup it.' "
districts are only one type of special district. Special districts are
created by a local community to meet a specific need like sewage, water,
fire protection and pest abatement.
nonenterprise special districts were supposed to share more equally in
the burden of this tax shift. That was discussed when Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders met with officials from the
special districts early this year. But the nonenterprise districts
(fire, police, hospital, library, veterans memorial, mosquito and vector
control) talked their way out of contributing and the enterprise
districts had to make it up.
More money going
"It was not
intended for us to take the hit we took," Kendall said. "The
estimates were we'd take only a third of $4 million. It caught the
governor by surprise and all the special districts (because they started
allowing the exemptions in)."
Over the next two
years, Schwarzenegger and the Legislature plan to take $8 million from
Statewide, the tax
shift for special districts will amount to $350 million. The water
district paying the most is the Santa Clara Valley Water District,
anteing up $25.5 million. Calleguas is 15th.
like Mike Solomon, chief financial officer for the United Water
Conservation District, which delivers wholesale water to a third of the
county including Oxnard, are calling the tax shift a "raid."
They say politicians have figured out a way to raise taxes without
calling it that.
"You can have
somebody saying, 'I won't raise taxes,' " Solomon said, "but
by raiding local governments so they have to raise rates, it is in
effect raising taxes."
"We wear the
black hats and they wear the white hats," said United's general
manager, Dana Wisehart.
United has already
raised its rates 51 percent. The district saw the hit coming and
notified constituents at a town hall meeting last May.
United is losing
about $1.5 million of its budget, which includes $900,000 it was still
paying to cover a state budget crisis from the early 1990s. Calleguas
challenged the state when it tried to take its money in the early 1990s.
In court records Calleguas' lawyers argued that the state was engaging
in a scheme.
tax shift legislation is an attempt to create a loophole in the tax
limitation provisions of the California Constitution by indirectly
increasing the tax burden on California residents (by forcing local
agencies to increase fees or decreasing service) without a two-thirds
vote," Calleguas argued.
But Calleguas lost
its court challenge and decided it would not be worth the cost to
A court challenge
may not be necessary to keep the state from doing this in the future.
Proposition 1A was
approved by voters in the November election. It allows the state to
borrow -- not permanently take -- local government revenues in the event
of a fiscal emergency. It goes into effect in 2006.
voted for 1A it was a mandate that the taxpayers wanted taxes to stay
local," Kendall said.
are that the state budget won't be straightened out for three years,
Kendall expects that in the third year, Calleguas will be handing the
state another $4 million, only it will be a loan.