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MWD Plan to Boost Property Tax Levy Comes Under Fire

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ventura County farmers and other residents Tuesday sharply criticized a proposal by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to nearly double the levy it imposes on many property tax bills.

At a public hearing in Thousand Oaks, district officials said the proposed levy would be $9.58 per acre or for every lot that is one acre or smaller. The levy this year is $5.

Officials said the levy would raise a total of $50 million from the district’s service territory, which stretches from San Diego to Oxnard, and would ensure a more reliable flow of income for the district.

In Ventura County, the tax would be imposed on property within the Calleguas Municipal Water District, which includes Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Santa Rosa Valley, Camarillo, Moorpark and Oxnard.

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Richard Balcerzak, MWD’s assistant general manager, said the district financed much of its operation with reserves during the drought, but that those reserves will be used up next year. “During the last three years, water rates were held artificially low by using the reserves,” he said.

Bob Paulger, representing Procter & Gamble Paper Products Co. in Oxnard, the county’s largest water user, said his company strongly supports the tax. “Without water, we don’t make paper,” he said. “Without water, we don’t have 600 jobs. And we came very close to not having water during this last drought.”

But critics said the levy is just one of several being considered by cash-strapped public agencies. For example, Calleguas, which resells MWD water to about 500,000 customers in Ventura County, is proposing its own $10 charge on property tax bills next year.

Most of the opponents who spoke Tuesday were farmers who would have to pay the assessments on large tracts of land even though they do not use MWD water.

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“We think it’s unconscionable that an unelected body can impose a property tax,” said Santa Rosa Valley farmer John Lamb, whose family faces an annual tax increase of nearly $10,000 because of the levy.

The levy would come on top of a 19% increase in wholesale water rates that was approved earlier this month by the MWD board. The increase, which will go into effect July 1, will raise the cost of water by $63 an acre-foot. An acre-foot is about 325,000 gallons, about what a family of five uses in one year.

On Monday, the Simi Valley City Council voted to oppose the levy. The council serves as the board of directors for the city’s water company, Ventura County Waterworks District No. 8.

Councilwoman Sandi Webb, who chairs the waterworks board, said the extra charge is unfair.

During the drought, she said, MWD raised rates to encourage customers to use less water.

“Now they have diminished sales and they want to raise the rates,” she said. “A business couldn’t get away with this. I can’t charge my customers more because I have less business.”

MWD officials said revenues from a property tax charge would be more stable than revenue from rates, which fluctuate with the season and are not as predictable from year to year.

MWD is required to put the levy to a vote if it receives protests from property owners representing 15% of the parcels that are subject to the levy.

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There are about 5.4 million parcels in the service area, and 345,200 of them are in Ventura County, officials said.

If protests represent 40% of the parcels, the district is not allowed to impose the levy.

About 140 people attended Tuesday’s hearing, the second of five in MWD’s territory, but the only one to be held in Ventura County. The MWD board will make a final decision on the levy in May.


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