MVSD is proposing an 84% increase in sewer fees – can we do anything?

Dear Editor,

My family has lived in Martinez for more than 40 years.  We love Martinez and will live here as long as we can.

I’m writing you out of concern, and to ask if there is something we can include in the Gazette — either online or when print resumes.

Many of us are distracted right now, and may not be paying attention to everything going on around them.  There is something looming though…something that could have a pretty significant impact on a subset of Martinez residents, primarily in Northeast Martinez, who are served by Mountain View Sanitary District for their sewer services. Their service area map attached. (Contra Costa Sanitary District (aka “Central San”) services other areas in Martinez.)

MVSD is asking for a rate increase from the current annual fee of $516.60 to $1,132.44 over a relatively short timespan of 5 years.  This will be voted on in at the next Board Meeting on June and the increases will begin this July.

Their fees/assessments appear on our property tax bills on the left side along with other special assessments/school bond payments, etc.  Most of us only look at the total due, and pay our taxes in 2 installments in November and April.  Should we be paying more attention even though we may not have all the controls to affect a change to what we pay?  I strongly believe we do!

By Law, and under Proposition 218, special districts must provide their “customers” an advance notice of proposed increases.  In MVSD’s case, that notice went out in late February/March along with notification of an upcoming public informational hearing that was scheduled for April 9.  That public in-person April hearing was cancelled due to the pandemic.  However, MVSD’s Board is still scheduled to vote for the increase…unless they receive at least 3,500 protest letters by homeowners by the meeting date. That 3,500 count is supposed to represent a majority of residential property owners served by MVSD, and the number was provided to me by the MVSD District Manager.

Also, due to the number of recent protest letters they received, the Board delayed the vote until June 11. They discussed some of their reasoning in their last Board meeting on May 14 via ZOOM. The only ones who knew about it were those who paid attention on social media. They also told the 20+ attendees that the actual protest letter count needed to be over 4,000 to defeat the proposal. Yes, it went up.

So, in summary, several of us have joined and have not given up, but in the short term they will vote in the next increase while raising their salaries & adding more debt. The scenario for Martinez homeowners & renters is not looking good.

I attended the last board meeting on April 9 via a web meeting on ZOOM.  They had provided a placeholder on their agenda for public comment, but it was not well advertised.  It was during that meeting I explained (during my three minute time allotment) why I was protesting the increase, and asked about the number of protest letters required.  The odds that 3,500 people are even aware that this is happening right now is relatively slim.  Social media is helping (Nextdoor and Facebook), but it is not enough.  In the Mountain View neighborhood, for example, approximately half of the residents do not subscribe to Nextdoor.  Mountain View is also an economically challenged area of Martinez.  In addition, renters are not allowed to submit a protest letter…it has to be the landowner.  If or when these fees go up, they are, more likely than not, going to be passed on to the renters in the form of rent increases.  The effect of a $1,132 fee averages more than $94/month.  This is not insignificant to a homeowner or a renter and will hit those on fixed incomes especially hard.

Emails were sent to our City’s leaders (due to SIP) to ask for intervention.  While our City Manager indicates MVSD is a self-governing entity and the City has no official oversight, they should be concerned about what is happening to their residents.  Lots of financial information is available on MVSD.org. including what they spend most of their money on (salaries and benefits for example), as well as their current and future debt.  The General Manager’s contract is there, and other significant information of which most people are likely unaware.  One concerning point:  They only budget 3% of their operating expenses towards maintenance.  The plant infrastructure is old and it may no longer be cost-effective to keep this small plant as a standalone plant.  CCCSD’s fee structure is not rising at a rate nearly as steep as this proposal from MVSD.  If a district/entity of any kind has this much trouble managing its facility, something seems strangely amiss.  In my opinion, all options should be explored and considered besides exorbitant fee increases.  In the short-term, the vote should be delayed to allow for a more extensive informational town hall meeting.

Sincerely,
Alice Jackman

MVSD District Map

Generic letter

MVSD Board Secretary
Mt. View Sanitary District
P. O. Box 2757
Martinez, Ca. 94553

PROPERTY TAX Generic Protest Letter for Mt. View Sanitary Dist.

Here’s the info for the Generic Protest Letter to protest the property tax increase:

INSTRUCTIONS:Towards the top of the letter before the MVSD Board Secretary address lines, please enter your name/s, property address, city, state, zip AND MOST IMPORTANTLY YOUR  PARCEL NUMBER FROM YOUR LAST TAX BILL.

To qualify, MVSD has to be listed as a service provider under the left side of “Special Taxes & Assessments”. The charge for all single family homes is currently $615.60…that is the one they want to increase to $1,132.44! Please Sign and Date the letter. Please place in a stamped envelope and mail ASAP so it can be counted prior to the next Board Meeting on JUNE 11.

Wish us luck. They need at least 3,500 protest letters in advance of their vote, or this increase will be passed by the Board. CONSIDER MAKING A COPY OF THIS PRE-FORMATTED LETTER AND INSTRUCTIONS AND GIVE TO YOUR NEIGHBORS OR PLACE A COPY ON THEIR PORCH.THANK YOU FOR CARING

RE: Objection to Proposed Rate Increase in Sewer Service Charges Dear Mt. View Sanitary District Board of Directors I am in opposition to the proposed sewer rate increase. In addition, I respectfully ask that the Board defer the June 11 vote during these challenging economic times. More consideration needs to be made to the distraction and personal disruption to Martinez families/homeowners due to the pandemic shelter in place restrictions. Your April public hearing was cancelled. To vote on this increase in June is ill-advised and a potential violation of Prop 218. In the meantime, please consider reducing overhead during these challenging times.

Signed, (Homeowner)

Dated

 

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