The volunteer Pine/Strawberry Water Improvement District board spent an excruciating Saturday listening to the community vent its frustration about spiraling tax and water rates. Then the board members glumly approved a plan to double the property tax rate and boost water charges by about one-third for most homeowners.
Mostly, the people who spoke just railed against the increases — without grappling with the inexorable need.
The district has already accomplished wonders in establishing an adequate water supply. Given the number of shallow wells that have gone dry in the last three years, we suspect the community would be virtually out of water by now if the district hadn’t bought out Brooke Utilities.
That doesn’t absolve the district of all future sins, but it certainly ought to buy the hard-working board at least a smidgen of the benefit of a doubt. The district made a strong case for an increase in rates. The system proved far more dilapidated than anyone realized. Clearly, the district urgently needs a comprehensive plan to overhaul of the system that loses to leaks a third of the water it produces.
Board member Sam Schwalm demonstrated the value of having a skeptic on the board. He offered a thoughtful critique of the new, $1,200 fee to reinstall a water meter. Other board members said the fee will deter part-timers from having their meter pulled in the winter. Schwalm rightly expresses concern for people who simply fall behind on their bills — a population that may well increase with these daunting rate increases. Other board members bridled at his suggestions. We suspect they’d be better advised to accept the ideas that make sense.
Some community members expressed understandable concern about the seemingly improvisational nature of the budget — and the unsettling series of crisis that gobbled up the reserves.
Still, the need seems undeniable. Despite its growing pains, the district has certainly served the community.
We hope the lynch mob will take that into account — and cut the board some slack.