Water wars: Latest tax bills show process still moving

Bill Warner, Ojai Valley News reporter

Those receiving property tax bills this fall, might find an amount collected for the Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD) “CFD.” That stands for Community Facilities District, the legal designation obtained to qualify a geographic area for Mello-Roos funding. And it’s one sign the wheels are turning in CMWD’s acquisition of Golden State Water Company’s (GSWC’s) Ojai service area.

For residential property, the charges range in proportion to parcel size: from $59.30 on multifamily attached property units; $69.70 for a condominium unit; $82.18 for a single-family detached unit less than 10,000 square feet; $126.92 for a single detached family unit 22,000 to less than 43,560 square feet; and $358.94 on a single-family unit measuring 43,560 square feet or greater. Commercial property is charged $0.052 per square foot of nonresidential floor area, while industrial property is charged $0.027 per square foot of nonresidential floor area.

Pat McPherson, chairman of Ojai Friends for Locally Owned Water (Ojai F.L.O.W.), said the aim of the assessment was to reimburse CMWD for out-of-pocket legal expenses incurred for establishing the CFD and getting the bond issue for the acquisition on the ballot. Legal expenses resulting from GSWC’s litigation challenging the acquisition are included as well.

“It’s primarily for legal services in the creation of the district,” McPherson said Tuesday, “as well as all the court cases related to it. Golden State challenged it even before we had the election, and Casitas defended that too.”

Those out-of-pocket expenses stood at $456,000 at the end of August, according to CMWD Board of Directors Clerk Rebekah Vieira.

“It was never the intention that the community rate payers of Casitas would have to bear the cost of this project,” Vieira said Tuesday. Rather than using bond money, CMWD paid the expenses directly, she said. The CFD itself is now paying that back through the property tax, with the money going directly back to CMWD. This process preserves the $60 million bond issue approved by voters in 2013.

Subsequent to the 2013 election, GSWC’s challenge to the use of Mello-Roos funding for the takeover of its Ojai service area was rejected by the California State Supreme Court in August. By that time, it had caused a nearly two-year delay in the acquisition.

“The unfortunate part is that we have incurred these additional costs from the challenge,” Ojai F.L.O.W. attorney Ryan Blatz said Tuesday. “The good news, though, is that we’ll probably save money on bond fees and interest.”

CMWD recently contracted with Bruce W. Hull & Associates to conduct an appraisal of Golden State’s Ojai service area. If the appraisal amount does not exceed the $60 million bond cap, CMWD will likely make a purchase offer to GSWC. Throughout the takeover process, GSWC officials have consistently said they are not interested in selling the Ojai service area. 

© Ojai Valley News, 2015

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