Feeding at the public trough

The message in 2009 from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and its local membership agencies—the Las Virgenes and Calleguas municipal water districts—was use less, pay more. Even if you conserve, you must still pay higher fees.

In 2010 we’re asking the local water companies to institute their own financial reforms so that the current rate of water price increases will hopefully slow to a trickle.

Blame for the increases shouldn’t fall entirely on pass-through rate hikes from Met. While it’s true that Southern California’s giant water agency raised fees some 20 percent in 2009, the local provider in Oak Park hiked its fees 27 percent and is discussing another 22 percent increase early next year. Oak Park residents have every right to complain when they see their bill jump from $150 to $450 a month, as was the case for one unhappy resident.

Las Virgenes recently made a move in the right direction by taking advantage of an interest rate drop from 5 to 3 percent and refinancing $30 million in outstanding water district bonds. The savings will be significant, but we doubt they’ll cause water rates to go down because Met plans on another hike next year. The district also paid off its headquarters building on Las Virgenes Road in Calabasas, once dubbed an overindulgent “palace” due to its grandiose size.

Still, the water district has a long way to go.

Following on the heels of Met, which recently agreed to postpone a proposed union pension hike, Las Virgenes should reevaluate its own generous retirement package, the one that is paid for by struggling taxpayers. Las Virgenes board member Joe Bowman has been advocating local pension reform and we applaud his efforts.

The old argument that public service employees should receive healthy pensions because they could have opted for careers in the private sector and made more money, no longer rings true. Jobs in the private sector are scarce at best, and those who are lucky enough to still be employed must continue to shoulder the burden of the public pensions.

At Las Virgenes, some employees possess not only their state CalPERS pension, paid entirely
by the water district (read: the taxpayers), but also their Social Security plan and 457 plan, which is the public sector’s version of the 401k. Bowman thinks it’s gotten out of hand, and he’s right. The dollar contribution made by employees to these plans must increase dramatically. If not, local residents will continue to shoulder the burden in the form of higher water rates.

Water district customers are drowning already. Please don’t hurt them further by feeding at the public trough.

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