In the wake of an unprecedented global health and economic crisis, West Valley Water District (WVWD) staff introduced a proposed fiscal year (FY) 2020-2021 operating budget that maintains water safety, protects ratepayers and reflects the need for fiscal responsibility and accountability.
The proposed WVWD FY2020-2021 budget prepares for revenue decline due to the negative economic impact from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data presented by Governor Gavin Newsom, initial unemployment claims show that 4 million Californians, or one in five workers, applied for unemployment insurance in mid-March through early May. These economic issues have grossly affected government revenues and are reflected in a nearly 25 percent anticipated drop in overall state tax revenues. Public utilities, like WVWD, are hit especially hard as they must continue to provide essential services even when many ratepayers may not be able to make payments.
Anticipating this decline, WVWD staff conducted an unparalleled organization-wide, collaborative effort to prepare the proposed FY2020-2021 operating budget. The budget maintains critical infrastructure while considering several workforce reductions and applies a 10 percent reduction to operation expenditures. Staff is currently considering other measures to improve efficiencies and reduce expenses. Thanks to the foresight of staff, just a few weeks ago WVWD implemented the adoption of Incode 10, business management software from Tyler Technologies designed to improve financial and personnel management. As a result, WVWD is in position to immediately reduce spending and make necessary adjustments. The new software cuts paperwork and allows for more efficient data collection, route creation and meter readings. Earlier this year, WVWD reorganized 57 geographically scattered meter reading routes into 13 to improve efficiencies and reduce costs. The software will also provide for easier audits, stronger internal controls and instant monitoring of budgets.
In addition to these reductions, WVWD departments highlighted several priorities in the FY2020-2021 budget, which includes:
- Funding to improve efficiency and increase ratepayer engagement.
In addition to finding more efficient ways of utilizing staff and resources, the geographical information systems (GIS) department, which is an interdisciplinary department responsible for maintaining a digital asset database of pipes, wells and other assets to create maps, statistics, plans, reports and other supportive information for WVWD, will further develop and finalize a digital ratepayer engagement program. The program will allow ratepayers to report water leaks, pressure and quality issues via phone, desktop or tablet. The program will allow customers to attach photos and submit reports to WVWD and allow staff to immediately respond.
- Reductions to information technology costs.
In addition to assisting with the implementation of the Tyler system, the information technology department will look to reduce costs by placing some technology and system upgrades on hold and migrating WVWD telecommunications and email systems to lower cost service providers. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the department will continue to pursue economically viable video conferencing options that will help promote greater transparency, health and safety among WVWD ratepayers and staff.
- Capital improvement projects for disadvantaged communities to improve infrastructure, increase water quality and meet water demand
With approval by the Board of Directors under prior fiscal year budgets, WVWD staff identified solutions that will help diversify the district’s water supply to increase reliability. WVWD expects to begin construction on a $4.95 million expansion of the Lord Ranch Facilities which is located on Pepper Avenue north of Baseline Road in Rialto. The expansion of the facilities includes a new booster pump station and reservoir that will provide the Water District the ability to boost additional groundwater into elevated zones. Current Lord Ranch water facilities include an aeration tank, three groundwater wells and a pump station. In the FY2020-2021 CIP budget, Staff are also seeking to fund the Bloomington Area Waterline Replacement Project to improve infrastructure within the disadvantaged community of Bloomington as designated by the California Environmental Protection Agency.
- Cost-savings by transitioning to automatic meter readings.
In April, Governor Newsom issued a moratorium on water utility shutoffs due to nonpayment. Despite this slowdown, WVWD is slowly replacing manual meters with automatic meter reading (AMR) meters that allow for the automatic collection and transfer of water consumption data. This new technology will reduce billing errors, ratepayer complaints, and labor and fuel costs. It will also create real-time billing information and allow WVWD to shift limited resources to other department needs. The new devices will also promote energy conservation and savings via a new monitoring and billing system that empowers ratepayers to identify high-use activities and conserve.
- Funding to expand the water supply for the region’s growing population.
Due to projected population growth and growing peak summer water usage, the WVWD proposed budget will continue to fund the Oliver P. Roemer Water Filtration Expansion Project, which will supplement WVWD’s water supply with a reliable long-term source. The project is a multi-phase, multi-year undertaking that will ultimately treat and provide an additional 16 million gallons of water per day.
On Tuesday, May 19, 2020, the WVWD Board of Directors will discuss these initiatives, which will then be voted by the Board of Directors during a regularly scheduled meeting in June.