April 16, 2012 - More than a third of water ballots returned
Paper: Santa Maria Times (CA)
Title: More than a third of water ballots returned
Date: April 16, 2012
Author: Mike Hodgson / Associate Editor
Nearly 37 percent of issued ballots have been returned at just past the halfway point of voting on a proposed assessment district to pay for a supplemental water pipeline.
As of Friday, 2,974 of the 8,077 ballots sent to property owners had been returned, said Nipomo Community Services District Assistant General Manager Lisa Bognuda.
Whether that indicates ballots are running for or against the assessment district is anyone’s guess at this point.
“The consultant working with us who’s been involved in this kind of thing before said the numbers can
be all over the board,” said Michael LeBrun, NCSD general manager. “It depends on how hot the issue is.
“You know, if people are asleep and don’t really care, you might get
50 percent back,” he said. “Or, you might get up to 80 percent if it’s something that’s really galvanized the community.”
“Our goal is participation,” LeBrun added. “I think if we get 70 or 75 percent back, we’ll have achieved participation by most of our constituents.”
Based on the amount of their assessments, property owners within the proposed boundaries are being asked whether the district should be formed.
Ballots can be returned by mail, dropped off at the NCSD office or hand-delivered at a public hearing to be held during the NCSD board meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 9, in the district office, 148 S. Wilson St.
Each ballot is weighted according to the value of that assessment, which in turn is based on the number of “benefit units” assigned to a property according to its ultimate development potential.
If 50 percent, by dollar value, of the total ballots cast favor the proposal, the assessment district can be formed.
LeBrun said the ballots can’t be opened until after the public hearing is closed.
“We may start counting that evening, depending on how long the meeting goes,” LeBrun said, noting it won’t be possible to count 8,000 ballots in one day. “Then we’ll knock off for the night and reopen the counting the following morning.”
He expects the tally to be done by noon and the results to be announced at a special meeting set for 3 p.m. Thursday, May 10.
LeBrun said neither NCSD directors nor staff will be “counting the ballots and making up our own numbers.”
The counting will be done by an independent four-member team from Special District Financing & Administration in Escondido, with NCSD’s assessment engineer and bond counsel observing.
LeBrun said members of the public also may observe the counting, which will take place in the NCSD board room.
He added that property owners who have cast their ballots can change their votes up until the close of the public hearing.
“If they hear new information and decide they want to vote in support, or if they hear something new and decide ... they want to vote against it, they can contact us now or at the hearing,” LeBrun said. “We’re actually capable of issuing a new ballot at the hearing.”
He said a couple of property owners have already cast new ballots to change the votes they had sent in.
NCSD is proposing to build a pipeline to initially bring 2,500 acre-feet of water to the Mesa from Santa Maria.
Construction of the pipeline and auxiliary structures is estimated at $25.2 million, and $2.3 million of that would be paid using a state grant, with the balance covered by a bond issue.
The bonds would then be repaid with assessments on properties within the service areas of the Mesa’s four major water purveyors — NCSD, Rural Water Co., Golden State Water Co. and Woodlands Mutual Water Co.
The water would be purchased from Santa Maria at the same amount its customers pay on the lowest tier of city water rates.
Mesa purveyors’ existing customer rates would rise to pay for the cost of the water itself.
The goal of the project is to offset the amount being pumped from the Nipomo Groundwater Basin.
District officials say supplemental water is needed to provide a second source for Mesa residents and to prevent the groundwater level from falling below sea level, which could lead to saltwater intrusion.
They also say obtaining supplemental water is required under the stipulated settlement in the Santa Maria Valley Groundwater Basin lawsuit.
But the pipeline has drawn strong public criticism and spawned the formation of the Mesa Community Alliance, a loose coalition of opponents who challenge NCSD’s claims.
Opponents say the pipeline will not bring in “new water” because the Nipomo basin is part of the larger Santa Maria basin; the project and the water are both too expensive; and better alternatives are available.
Section: Local News
Record Number: 55dade356cb4f28cddb94ff474b618360f498b
Copyright, 2012, Santa Maria Times, Santa Maria, CA