Pine Water District Muddies The Water

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The Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District seems to have developed an almost uncanny knack for shooting itself in the foot.

Witness the confusion spawned by the implementation of a rate increase that will mostly affect second-home owners — who probably represent a majority of the district’s customers.

The rate itself makes perfect sense. The board back in August decided to increase the basic monthly rate for people using less than 2,000 gallons a month to $36 — a 50 percent increase. Near as we can tell from squinting at the new rate card, most everyone else will actually save about $1.55 a month.

Now, some sort of rate increase seemed inevitable and reasonable. After all, the district has managed to significantly increase its water supply in the past year by fixing pipes and buying producing wells in the area. The district not only has avoided the costly water hauling practices that Brooke Utilities had turned into a routine burden, but has removed the building moratorium that had blighted the community for years.

On the face of it, that stands as a major achievement and a boon to the community the district serves.

But here comes the district’s tendency to insert foot in mouth — remove it — shoot it — put it back in the mouth.

The new water rates took effect on Jan. 1. Makes perfect sense. But then the district decided to apply the rate to any payments due in January — even if the folks used the water last year. Now, that’s just silly. Granted, it’s not a huge deal. The decision might save many full-timers a buck or so and cost second-homers $12 or $18 extra.

Still, it’s the principle of the thing: It just does not seem right to backdate the bills to apply 2011 rates to 2010 water, especially since the district’s Web site has water rate charts for Aug. 2010 to Dec. 31, 2010 and another chart clearly stating that new rates start Jan. 1, 2011.

So instead of quietly instituting a needed water rate increase, the heavy-handed implementation has stirred needless controversy.

And the board president refuses to answer our quite simple questions about the billing practices. We were told in an e-mail that the board president was designated by the board as its spokesperson. Now the board president, who is an elected public official, refuses to answer questions for our story. Instead he sends us to the district’s attorney, which probably cost the district a bundle of money.

Hmmm. What does that remind us of? Oh, yeah: Sort of like setting out to buy a necessary well without an appraisal. Or maybe it reminds us of provoking the mass resignation of consultants and water experts by challenging their integrity. So instead of getting credit for its creative, far-sighted, hugely beneficial efforts to quickly and relatively cheaply, dramatically increase the community’s water supply, the board seems intent on once again upsetting folks for no good reason.

Hopefully, these missteps represent the painful growth curve for a volunteer board working hard on behalf of the community. It’s just a shame that in the meantime the flawed implementation of necessary policies has managed to so consistently muddy the waters.

Shelter needs community help

state lawmakers representing Rim Country this week got a frightening look at the potential real-world impact of the agonizing choice they face — starting next week.

Sen. Sylvia Allen and Rep.-elect Chester Crandell took a tour of the Time Out Shelter, a vital refuge for women and children fleeing violent relationships.

The shelter has seen a 42 percent increase in pleas for help, but suffered a 25 percent drop in its revenues —mostly because of cuts in state and federal grants.

Last year, the shelter helped 350 women and 129 children — saving lives, preventing abuse and offering hope.

Make no mistake, domestic violence remains an often-hidden curse. It accounts for a high number of police calls in this community and remains the most dangerous type of call for police officers. It inflicts terrible damage on far too many women and often plants twisted seeds that bear their awful fruit generation after generation.

Unfortunately, Allen and Crandell and their legislative colleagues face an intractable deficit this year and next.

We hope that they will remember their tour when they confront their awful choices in the upcoming session. We hope they will remember how much is at stake in communities like ours. But in the meantime, we hope that you will not wait for those grim decisions. The Time Out Shelter depends heavily on state and federal funds — but donations and sales in the thrift shop already provide 16 percent of its funding. We hope that the community will step up once again — to increase contributions to cushion the likely blow of additional state and federal cuts.

Fortunately, we live here among our neighbors — not strangers. Rim Country has always protected its own. We must not falter now and betray that proud tradition.

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