Water wars

Paradise residents attempt to recall PID board members over rate hike

A dedicated petitioner and Paradise Irrigation District customer tries to attract signatures along the Skyway.

A dedicated petitioner and Paradise Irrigation District customer tries to attract signatures along the Skyway.

Photo courtesy of Lorene Eagleson

Join the fight:
If you live in the Paradise Irrigation District and would like to sign the recall petition, you can find them outside Safeway and Ace Hardware in Paradise. Also, you can drive through and sign at the corner of Skyway and Pearson Road starting Thursday (May 26) from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Back in January, a group of Paradise Irrigation District customers got together to protest a proposed rate hike. It was unfair, they argued, that they were being asked to pay more while also being required to consume less water. Plus, they said, district management wasn’t doing its job—why pay for costly upgrades when other options are available?

What they learned was that their voices had power. They organized a successful protest, which required support of 50 percent (plus one) of district customers, that blocked the rate hike in its tracks. Unfortunately for them, a new hike was proposed and quickly approved—trying to muster up another protest of that magnitude so soon was too much.

“That first rate plan was confusing to the public,” said Lorene Eagleson, one of the protest organizers. “Then they brought in this new rate plan that’s actually higher and said, ‘We’ll give you something you’ll understand.’ It was very insulting.”

Insulting enough for Eagleson and other like-minded PID customers to launch a recall effort aimed at two board directors: Larry Duncan and Sep Carola. They also oppose Ken Hunt, but he’s up for re-election in November anyway. Those three, Eagleson said, tend to vote in line with each other and with whatever the district manager, George Barber, recommends—rather than listening to the ratepayers.

“The board of directors is broken,” the petition reads. “It operates without recognizing the community is PID’S employer.”

A rate increase was originally pitched in January, when the district told customers it was on the verge of bankruptcy if it didn’t bring in more revenue. Under that proposal, which was shot down by protest, there was a tiered system based on how much water customers used. It was confusing, Barber acknowledged, because it required people to choose how much water they anticipated using. The current system is a single-rate system with a fixed service charge and no tiers based on usage, meaning those who consume very little will be paying more each month.

“That first rate increase confused them, and what it was was we were trying to alleviate the bad effects of [state law] that won’t allow us to give any restitution to low-income people—making the field equal hurts low-income people,” Duncan explained. “But they turned that down, and we came back with another rate and, unfortunately, it will hurt low-income people more than the first one would have.”

Barber pointed out that the district did implement a program to help low-income customers. About 300 people already have signed up and there is space for more, he said.

Beyond the rate increase, Eagleson said, petitioners are upset about the reason for the increase, which is what she calls unnecessary expenditures by the district. Those include pay bumps for district employees, a new district building and automated meters. They also include a planned water recycling facility, which the district maintains is needed to comply with state Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Director Bill Kellogg has long championed an alternative to the recycling facility that involves a natural wetlands filtration system. He’s also come out in support of the recall, though he declined to comment further for this story. Carola did not return an email or voicemail seeking comment by press time.

“Everything we’re doing is mainly because of state regulations,” Duncan said. “We have no control over that. Unfortunately, they don’t care how much it costs, so we have to pass it on to the customers. It affects me and everybody in town.

“I’m a very conservative person,” he continued. “I’m dumbfounded that I’m being accused of wasting money.”

Eagleson said petitioners are hoping to gather enough signatures—3,300—by June 17. That’s the cutoff date for setting the recall for November. If they miss that deadline, they’ll have to hold a special election, which would be costly for the district, and which all parties would like to avoid.