Marin Municipal Water District plans to put a big, new, annual fee on your next tax bill, AND, send a HUGE invoice to your public school district and municipality. Despite a stated 10 year term, the District plans that the proposed Capital Maintenance Fee will be ongoing for decades, with annual escalators. They’re already contemplating the “need” to reset it to a substantially higher level one or more times in coming years. Other utility-like agencies (e.g., water and sewer) throughout the Bay Area are watching MMWD’s bold move with an eye to following suit. If you don’t live in MMWD’s territory, don’t think these unfolding developments won’t affect you.
You don’t get a direct vote on Water Fees. At its 7:30 PM Tuesday March 5 board meeting (220 Nellen Ave, Corte Madera), Directors will vote to mail a proposition 218 notice informing ratepayers of the new fee. After a required 45 day waiting period, MMWD’s board will likely ratify putting the new fee on ratepayers’ next tax bill (and directly invoicing schools and cities that don’t get a tax bill). That final hearing and vote is planned for May 14.
Speak up now! Before the train leaves the station.
Putting on the tax bill a big new water fee that’s not tied to water use is unfair to those who have conserved and places further pressure on homeowners struggling to stay in their homes. The proposed new fee starts at $163.50 yearly for most homeowners, but some will pay much more, including one-fifth of homeowners whose initial tab will be $408.74. The fee is slated to rise annually, tied to the (usually well-above CPI) Bay Area Construction Cost Inflation Index.
Very troubling impact on schools and municipalities. Tam Union High School District, which has been forced to cut teaching positions owing to financial woes, says it will receive a $160,000 invoice in year 1 (the cost equivalent of more than one full teacher). Our sources say San Rafael School district’s bill will exceed $300,000 (perhaps substantially).
To offset the unexpected levy, schools may have to further reduce teacher count, and cities cut basic services. Or, they might seek approval for new taxes from voters. At some point taxpayers max out, rejecting higher tax measures on the ballot. MMWD, which doesn’t need voter approval for its fee and rate hikes, may crowd out other important public priorities.
Tell MMWD’s board to PAUSE and consult with the community on a better plan. Speak up at MMWD’s board meeting, 7:30PM, Tuesday March 5, 220 Nellen Avenue, Corte Madera. If you can’t make it, email your concerns to the board (and copy us at CoalitionTaxpayers@gmail.com):
Jack Gibson firstname.lastname@example.org
Armando Quintero email@example.com
Larry Bragman firstname.lastname@example.org
Larry Russell email@example.com
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What’s Wrong with MMWD’s Fee and Process? Keep reading!
Too much hurry, too little consultation. MMWD is in a big hurry to get the new fee in place for before July 1, the start of the District’s new fiscal year and also the new tax bill year.
They argue that a big step up in ratepayer dollars is necessary to maintain ageing infrastructure. Late in the process, a modest amount of the proposed fee was also earmarked for fire prevention projects.
Regrettably, the District, while working internally on this proposed fee for some time, largely failed to consult the community regarding the project priorities or the fee’s magnitude, design, and distribution among ratepayers. School districts and city councils were in the dark, as were homeowners who will bear most of the brunt. A Citizens Advisory Panel wasn’t convened until late December 2018, leaving no time to produce a thorough report. MMWD Customers who will pay the bills were not formally represented on the panel. Residents who would prioritize fire prevention in the watershed — some of whom might be willing to pay even more for that security — weren’t given a chance to weigh in. The result is a proposal that isn’t ready for prime time. Tell MMWD to slow down and get this right.
New fee hits homeowners hard, and especially water savers. The capital maintenance fee — which is based on the size (volume) of each customer’s water meter, and without any recognition of individual customers’ water usage — falls heaviest on small water users. Small meter size MMWD customers (most of which are single family home occupants) will pay 78% of the fee while currently consuming only 58% of the District’s water output. The fee isn’t tied to consumption at all. Water conservers will see the biggest annual percentage increase in the amount they pay to the water district. Ratepayers should demand that some or all of the new fee be tied to water consumption.
New fee on the tax bill isn’t transparent. MMWD hasn’t provided any logical reason for not putting the fee on water bills, where we can see how much the invoice goes up. Marin County charges MMWD (=us) to bill via the tax roll. Ratepayers should demand that any new fee be on the water bill.
Financial need and alternatives haven’t been publicly aired. MMWD says the sharp jump in its push for more money ties largely to a planned move entirely away from bonds (which spread financing costs over time) to having current customers pay entirely for replacing long-lived assets and updating systems. Independent financial experts (many live in our community) weren’t consulted on this approach. It’s also worth evaluating to what extent MMWD needs more money because of rising benefits and expenses. MMWD’s total compensation (including benefits) now averages nearly $200,000 annually per full-time employee. How much could be saved by renegotiating labor contracts (including rich healthcare insurance benefits for retirees); putting in place caps on starting salaries of new hires; and ending the unusual practice of very part time board members accepting fully paid, tax-free healthcare insurance? Does the district have a good plan to “ring-fence” the new operating fees to ensure they aren’t subsidizing rising operating costs? Ratepayers should demand MMWD tap financially savvy community members to vet the district’s entire capital fee plan.
Process marred by ongoing poor transparency. MMWD has repeatedly rebuffed, without good reason, constituents’ requests that the District video and post board meetings; other similarly sized Marin jurisdictions do so. Staff reports and PowerPoint presentations are often unavailable to the public prior to those meetings (or not even posted online after the fact). Public complaints about these shortcomings have not produced any change. Meetings of standing committees (e.g., finance, communications, operations, etc.) are similarly deficient on transparency. Ratepayers must demand improved transparency: MMWD should videotape all board and committee meetings with closed captions for the hearing impaired. They should post 72 hours in advance all staff reports and presentation materials.