In a five-hour budget workshop on February 3, the Helix Water District Board of Directors listened, questioned and discussed the draft budget presented for each of the district’s cost centers, from water treatment to system operations, vehicles and IS systems.
The board will decide over the next several months how to balance two pressing issues – how to recover the cost of water storage, treatment and distribution for the 277,000 people the district serves, and how best to meet the needs of customers experiencing economic hardship caused by the covid-19 pandemic.
In April 2020, to support customers impacted by the pandemic, the board approved a zero rate increase and froze late payment fees and shutoffs for nonpayment.
Nine months have passed, the pandemic has not, and it’s time once again for the board to approve a budget and to set water rates to recover the costs needed to run the district and keep water safely and reliably flowing to customer taps.
“We have additional challenges this year due to the lack of local rainfall and because of an expected increase in the cost of water,” said Carlos Lugo, General Manager.
As a result of dry conditions in San Diego County, water levels in Lake Cuyamaca are too low to offset the cost of imported water, and dry conditions statewide have pushed the cost of that imported water higher.
“Water purchases are our single largest expense,” said Director of Administrative Services Jennifer Bryant. “They make up over half of our operating expense budget and are expected to increase by $6.7 million in the coming year.”
The Helix board is considering using $4 million from the district’s rate stabilization reserve fund, deferring $2,000,000 of capital spending and discussing the use of other reserves to offset water costs.
The February 3 budget workshop was the second in a series of meetings leading up to a vote on a final budget for the upcoming fiscal year on March 17.
All Helix board meetings are conducted online and open to the public. Meetings are broadcast on zoom.com and the meeting number and password are provided on page one of each board meeting agenda.