Kennewick Irrigation District is trying out a new way to finance capital improvement projects, such as those that connect private pipeline customers directly to KID’s irrigation system.
Many frustrated customers have difficulty getting KID water through privately owned pipelines, and some want to be directly served by the district instead.
Earlier this past week, the board of directors unanimously approved a policy to allow surcharges for system improvements as a financing mechanism.
Customers who benefit from the improvements would pay a surcharge when they connect to the system. That charge would be set by the irrigation district’s board and would be paid with annual bills.
More than 7,000 parcels in the district’s boundaries are served by private lines. One could serve anywhere from two properties to 200.
Some property owners in the Oak Hills neighborhood at the northwest corner of South Oak Street and East Game Farm Road near Kennewick can’t wait to put the new option to use.
Water for the 15 properties is supposed to be delivered through a privately owned line connected to the KID system, but the property owner that controls the delivery isn’t providing them with water, resident Danielle Muzatko told the district’s board earlier this week.
Other property owners echoed her irritation with their experiences trying to use the privately owned system.
Gordon and Angelia Smith of Kennewick wrote that they have been frustrated during the past two summers in their new home because the irrigation system is “unpredictable, unreliable and is driven by farming needs not geared for our homeowners.”
The Smiths said they moved so that they could have irrigated pastures and are willing to pay to make that dream become a reality.
They aren’t the only ones struggling to access water. The district frequently hears from private line customers who have problems. But when a property is served by a privately owned pipeline, the district is not in charge of the maintenance.
The district can’t do anything if the pipeline or pump breaks, or one property owner decides to cut others on the line off from their water, said Jason McShane, engineering and operations manager.
In one case, a property owner who controlled the pump did not want to have to pay the electricity bill to run it and then try to collect money from his neighbors, so he decided to operate it only for himself, McShane said. Other times, property owners decided to cap a broken private pipeline instead of fixing it.
Private lines were created when developers didn’t want to pay for KID to build a system to serve a specific area, said Brian Iller, the district’s attorney. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way for property owners to know if they are connected to a private or district-owned line.
Oak Hills residents proposed a local improvement district last year to directly connect them to KID’s system. Improvement districts are formed by the petition of property owners, and anyone within the boundary must pay their share of the cost. That cost becomes a lien against their property until fully paid.
It’s a common method the irrigation district has used to finance system improvements that benefit a specific group of customers.
But extending service to the Oak Hills neighborhood would mean replacing an existing section of irrigation district piping that serves a greater area, McShane said. Using an improvement district would mean Oak Hills homeowners would pay more than their share of the project cost.
Using a surcharge financing option instead would allow those homeowners to pay for their equitable share as they connect to the system, McShane said. It could be paid off as a one-time charge or gradually with the time period such as five or 20 years set by the irrigation district board.
KID’s board of directors also would determine how much the district’s general ratepayers may pay and what the cost should be for property owners that benefit, he said.
If someone decided to connect later, they would still pay their fair and equitable portion of the project cost, McShane said. That would be determined by the board. The separate private line system would still be able to operate.
The new financing mechanism also is an option for projects not related to private pipelines.
John Trumbo, a Kennewick city councilman who also is a private line customer, is concerned that the irrigation district could pay for a project using the new method whether property owners want it or not. He asked the board to work on the policy more.
Director David McKenzie said the irrigation district does need the ability to consider an improvement project for a specific area. But the process needs to be public so property owners who would pay the surcharge have input.
Irrigation district staff plans to work with property owners and get feedback when looking at the Oak Hills projects or any others, McShane said.
The surcharges would be among the rates that the district reviews and approves through the Board of Equalization each year, McShane said. A public hearing is held on those rates and charges before the board takes any action.
Now that the policy has been adopted, staff will work on bringing a proposal to the board about the Oak Hills neighborhood, McShane said. They plan to get written commitments from the involved property owners.