Pine Water District May Boost Rates 40 Percent

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The Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District board will meet at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning to consider increasing both water rates and property taxes.

The proposed changes could double tax rates and increase water rates by possibly 30 percent or more.

Board member Sam Schwalm has already publicly opposed a portion of that proposal, a one-time property tax assessment in 2013-14.

In an e-mail commentary, Schwalm said the assessment prompted him to cast the lone vote against the budget at the April 25 board meeting. Other board members concluded the district needed the assessment to replenish budget reserves used last summer during the Pine Creek Canyon Road project.

“The premise is false,” Schwalm contends. “The money for the project was placed in the budget two years ago. At the time, the board raised property taxes from $200,000 to $300,000 instead of the reduction to $100,000 as was promised.”

He said two years ago the district said it had to raise the property tax rate to pay for the project. “I think the public has paid for the project and shouldn’t have to pay for it again.”

Ray Pugel, PSWID board chairman, would not comment on Schwalm’s allegations for fear of violating the state’s open meeting laws.

“Things like this are supposed to be discussed in front of the public,” Pugel said.

The state’s open meeting law bars board members from discussing issues privately and coming to a decision involving a majority of the board. It does not prevent elected officials from talking to the public or the press outside of meetings.

Board co-chairman Gary Lovetro would also not comment, citing open meeting laws.

Schwalm’s e-mail argued that any increased revenue should come from water usage rates and not from property tax increases. “Property taxes should not be used to subsidize the operation of the district,” he contends.

Tomorrow’s hearing begins at 10 a.m. at the Pine Cultural Hall, and may attract a crowd concerned about tax and rate increases that could increase district revenue by almost 40 percent.

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