Pleasanton Weekly

News - October 8, 2010

Rates, debt main concerns at DSRSD open house

Agency owes $50 million

by Glenn Wohltmann

Although some people have been complaining about hikes in their water and sewer services, it seemed most of those who turned out at the Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) open house Sept. 30 were looking for information, not someone to blame.

DSRSD is the agency that supplies water and sewer services to Dublin and parts of San Ramon and Pleasanton. Nineteen people, a mix from all three communities, attended, asking questions about the agency's debt and their bills. Officials at the agency were a little worried about the turnout, since only two people gave advanced notice they planned to attend.

Water and sewer rates are going up in January, and DSRSD will continue its temporary surcharge until its $50 million debt is restructured. The debt -- and the surcharge -- came about because the agency had to build the entire infrastructure needed for communities like Dougherty Valley and eastern Dublin before the first home went in. When construction stopped because of the downturn in the economy, developer fees -- the money paid to have homes linked to the system -- stopped as well, leaving DSRSD in debt.

Among those looking for information were Dubliners Margo and John Johnson, who spend much of their time away from home, largely doing mission work for their church.

"When I looked at our last bill, our surcharge was higher than our fixed rate and our water usage," Margo Johnson said.

The two spend much of their time in Africa, something John said gives them a unique perspective.

"When it comes to water, we have more empathy than most," John said. "Water is the biggest problem in the world."

Linda Costello, also of Dublin, was worried about the $50 million owed by DSRSD.

"That much debt was kind of surprising," Costello said, adding she's "concerned about how much we'll be paying for our water."

After speaking to officials, she said, she came to a better understanding of the situation. Her son, Mitchell, said he has a better perspective, too, and offered a simple solution.

"We'd better get more ratepayers, otherwise we won't be able to pay off our debt," he said.

Much of the discussion focused on exactly how to address the debt issue. DSRSD is considering a number of options, including variable rate and fixed rate bonds; and bank loans and inter-fund loans, in which the agency in effect lends itself money out of reserves it has on tap for repairs and other expenses.

Public comment is part of the process, but DSRSD officials will also be talking to financial experts from the area, including people who manage money for local cities, to get their perspective on the best way to deal with the debt.

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