About 100 residents of Mesa del Caballo attended a meeting on Tuesday intended to rally support for forming a water improvement district to buy out Brooke Utilities and lay claim to water from the Blue Ridge pipeline.
“We’re trying to form something that will help all of us,” said Bonnie Dorris, one of five people who have started circulation petitions to form an improvement district to acquire the water system from Brooke. “You’ll have a say. Right now you really don’t.”
Dwight Busby, one of the five residents seeking the signatures of 51 percent of the 400 homeowners to establish the water improvement district, said “Mesa del is a great community, but I’m not OK with the water bill. We’re just a bunch of volunteers hoping to do something better.”
The two-hour meeting tackled questions about how residents can set up a water district that could then apply for state and federal grants to enable homeowners to buy out Brooke and come up with the estimated $600,000 necessary to buy into the Blue Ridge pipeline, which would likely eliminate water shortages and the now routine water hauling fees.
The crowd seemed mostly supportive, although some residents insisted that a water improvement district could never raise enough money needed to buy out the private water company — and would spur fierce opposition if it tried to impose a tax on the roughly 40 residents who have their own wells.
Tom Kuhn, one of the five people who would serve on the first board if enough residents sign the petition, said he believed the non-profit water improvement district could offer lower rates than Brooke Utilities, since it would operate tax free and could likely win substantial state and federal grants. However, he said backers didn’t yet have firm estimates.
“The whole reason to form the water district is to get this information together,” said Kuhn.
Brooke Utilities President Robert Hardcastle recently hosted a series of public meetings to determine whether residents wanted the company to strike a deal to get 75 to 90 acre-feet of water annually from Payson’s Blue Ridge pipeline. At those meetings, Hardcastle said the cost of connecting to the pipeline in about 2015 would boost average water bills by about 130 percent — but would also end the summer water hauling charges that in the past several years have doubled or tripled summer water bills.
Kuhn said his preliminary calculations suggested the average water improvement district bill would end up lower than Brooke’s projected bill after connecting to the pipeline, but declined to offer specific figures.
“I ran a bunch of numbers and it’s not going to be 130 percent of what you’re paying now. I can’t tell you how much less,” said Kuhn.
“Why can’t you give us a number?” demanded one listener.
“Because it’s very preliminary,” replied Kuhn.
“Why would I vote for a water district if you can’t give me a number?” “Your questions are good,” said Kuhn, “but they’re premature. Next time we meet, I can give you those answers. Once we’re an official entity, that work starts.”
Backers said they hoped that a newly formed district could qualify for state and federal grants to finance acquisition of the Blue Ridge water rights and make it possible to raise the money to buy out Brooke Utilities.