Detachment, Legal Battle Spur Water Rate Increase

Byron, CA (May 17, 2016) – For the first time in more than two decades, Byron-Bethany Irrigation District’s (BBID) Board of Directors voted Tuesday to authorize an increase to the District’s uniform, agricultural water rate. The move comes in the midst of BBID’s ongoing legal battle with the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to protect BBID’s senior water rights, at the same time the District stands to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in property tax revenue.

“We know it will be difficult for our farmers and ranchers to shoulder this additional burden,” said BBID General Manager Rick Gilmore. “BBID has been able to keep the same, low rate in place for more than 20 years, but recent events made today’s action unavoidable to protect the financial stability of the District.”

Earlier this year, Contra Costa County moved to pursue detachment of portions of the town of Discovery Bay from the BBID service area, an area that generated $685,000 in annual property revenue. BBID expects to lose half of that revenue in 2016, and the full amount by 2017. Meanwhile, the SWRCB’s attack on BBID’s water rights has resulted in an expensive – but critically necessary – legal fight to protect the pre-1914 water rights that provide the foundation for the District’s reliable water deliveries its growers depend on.

Tuesday’s vote at the end of a public hearing concluded the Proposition 218 process that began with a cost of service study by an independent rate consultant. Based on the consultant’s recommendations, the Board authorized a 2016 agricultural water rate no higher than $102 per acre foot, but ultimately decided to set this year’s rate at $65 per acre foot, opting to use financial reserves to soften the blow to BBID’s growers. The previous rate was $20 per acre foot. The change will take effect on June 1st.

In other business, the Board announced general counsel Dan Kelly is moving on at the end of this month, leaving private practice to join a public agency. Kelly was presented with a framed resolution recognizing his dedicated service the past several years.

“Dan’s tireless passion and unparalleled legal expertise will be missed,” said BBID Board of Directors President Russell Kagehiro. “Right now, we are fighting to protect our water rights – fighting for the very future of our District, and Dan has led that charge. For that, we will be forever grateful.”

Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors Vote Triggers Possible Detachment Process in Town of Discovery Bay

Byron, CA (November 17, 2015) – In a unanimous 5-0 decision, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted to ask the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) in San Joaquin County to consider the detachment of portions of the Town of Discovery Bay from the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District (BBID). Currently, the property tax revenue paid by the affected residents of Discovery Bay helps ensure the future water supply of this growing residential community. The authorization of the application represents the beginning of a formal process that could jeopardize the needs of the community moving forward.

“We are absolutely puzzled by the Board’s premature action on this issue,” says BBID Board President Russell Kagehiro. “All interested parties are in the very early stages of the analysis of rates, services and impacts, and the relationship between the Town of Discovery Bay and BBID. Without further review of the future water supply needs of Discovery Bay, particularly in light of a historic drought, this authorization is irresponsible.”

In the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors’ consideration of the item, county staff was asked to prepare a series of documents needed for the Board to pursue detachment of the overlapping tax rate areas for water service between BBID and the Discovery Bay Community Services District. In the staff report made public on November 13th, that early examination clearly states that the true impacts are unknown. The document affirms the following:

The MSR [Municipal Service Review] also noted that further study is needed to fully analyze the service and fiscal implications of such a detachment to both the residents and BBID.

Among the unanswered questions are how the Town of Discovery Bay will receive water in the future and how current BBID customers’ water rates will be impacted if the district loses this tax revenue. Currently, the nearly $685,000 received annually by BBID through the property tax allocation contributes to the organization’s general fund and allows for the development and protection of future water supply as well as basic operations. While this tax revenue could be allocated to another service, Discovery Bay residents will not see a reduction in their property tax assessments as a result of any future LAFCO decision.

In further action during today’s meeting, the Board of Supervisors directed the County Administrator to explore allocation of the BBID property tax revenues from the overlap areas to the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD), a decision that could blur current negotiations among the affected agencies. Earlier this month, the BBID Board of Directors directed staff to develop a proposal that would bring more than $1 million to ECCFPD over five years.

“We recognize that we need to help and we have a current offer on the table that would bring real relief, “ says BBID Board Member Larry Enos. “But we cannot do this on the backs of local farmers and ranchers. Our proposal balances the current need for fire services with the future need for a reliable water supply, without putting an already hard-hit agriculture community at greater risk”

LAFCO is the agency responsible for coordinating changes to local government boundaries, including annexations, consolidations and detachments. It is specifically charged by law with encouraging the orderly formation and development of all the governmental agencies within its jurisdiction.

“It is incumbent upon the LAFCO organizations in our region to study this issue completely before moving forward,” adds BBID Board Vice President Tim Maggiore. “Anything short of that is inconsistent with good governance and will only lead to fractured relationships.”