A weepy Manila water rate hearing

UNDER CONSTRUCTION Volunteers are completely rebuilding what’s called House A at the Manila Community Center. It will eventually house the local family resource center. Jack Durham | Union

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

MANILA – In September, Manila residents will see their combined sewer and water bills increase by about $7.21 a month.

The Manila Community Services District Board of Directors held a protest hearing July 20, but opposition to the rate hike was minimal, with only 38 protests, representing 16 parcels. Manager Chris Drop said the district would have had to receive protests from about 190 customers for the increase to be shot down.

The board ultimately voted 3–1 in favor of the increase, with Director Dendra Dengler dissenting, and Director Carol VanderMeer absent.

During the meeting, Dengler was distraught, often crying while angrily criticizing the board and the manager and accusing them of wrongdoing.

The rate increase

The combined sewer and water bill now averages about $68.08 a month for residents, although the exact amount depends on water usage.

Under the proposed rate increase, average monthly bills will go up to $75.29, an increase of $7.21. In fiscal year 2019, the average bill will be $78.90; in 2020, $82.74; in 2021, $86.88; and in 2022, $91.27.

That means that by 2022, residents will be paying, on average, $23.19 more per month than they are paying now.

The rate increase is the result of several factors. The district hasn’t raised rates in a decade, so the rates never kept up with inflation. The district has also seen an increase in charges from its wholesale water supplier, the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District. Last year, the district lost its biggest industrial customer when the Sierra Pacific Mill closed its doors.

Without a rate increase, the bare-bones district would run a deficit, which would grow larger every year.

Lots of drama

Although the items on the July 20 were generally routine matters for the small utility district, there was plenty of drama.

Dengler showed up a couple minutes late and told the board “I apologize for being late. I’m not feeling well. I had some medical things today that ... they gave me certain drugs.”

During the discussion about the water rate increase, Dengler objected to how the protest votes were counted.

The protest votes, which are letters submitted by property owners opposed to the rate increase, are a matter of public record. District staff counted the protest letters as they came in and included them in an information packet posted on the district website and given to directors.

Dengler said she wanted the votes to be kept confidential in a sealed envelope that would only be opened and counted at the meeting by a staff member, someone other than the manager, designated by the board.

That’s how it was done in the past, she said.

The way the district is counting the protest votes now, she said, “is sort of a violation of trust.”

Board Chair John Woolley explained to Dengler that the district was following a “process dictated by law.”

Manager Drop reiterated that the letters are a matter of public record. They are not confidential. Under the Public Records Act, anyone can request to see them and the district would be violating the law if it kept them secret.

As the discussion continued, Dengler started crying and her voice sounded angry.

“I wasn’t going to do this, but I’m so frustrated by this board, because it does not follow district policies. Do you hear me? Public?” said Dengler as her voice broke and she cried.

“So I’m protesting the sewer rate,” Dengler said, her voice cracking.

The board ultimately voted to approve the increase, with Dengler dissenting.

Pasta Feed, sobbing

Terri Vroman Little, representing the upcoming Humboldt Marathon, set for Aug 13, told the board during public comments about a pasta feed that will be held at the Manila Community Center on Saturday, Aug. 12 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. She invited the board and community members to attend. The cost is $15 per person, $10 for children under 10 years old and free for children under 5 years old.

Proceeds from the event will help fund a proposed playground that will be built at the Manila Community Center.

Dengler responded that she was upset that the playground was being promoted as a “community” playground.

“I’ve seen it advertised as a Manila community playground, and this bothers me personally. I’m sorry,” she said.

It’s not clear why Dengler objected to the use of the word “community.” The playground will need to be approved by the district before it is built, it will be open to the public and to the students of Redwood Coast Montessori, a school based at the Manila Community Center. The school is sponsoring the pasta feed.

Dengler complained that the school is not allowed to use the main hall at the center. But Manager Drop pointed out that the school’s lease includes the use of the main hall.

“The kitchen is not,” Dengler interjected. “And that has been an issue. And believe me, I have paid for that issue personally... and you know that.” Dendra continued on as she sobbed.

Woolley interrupted her, saying “Dendra, Dendra,” a plea for her to stop with the dramatics.

“No!” shrieked Dengler, cutting off Woolley.

“I’ve lost a position, a job, because of his [Bryan Little’s] misrepresentation,” said Dengler, who continued sobbing.

Dengler was referring to Bryan Little, the director of Redwood Coast Montessori, who filed a complaint with the Manila district against Dengler in December 2014.

Little complained that Dengler had barged into an after-school program while intoxicated, yelled at staff and took photos of children without permission.

Dengler denied the accusations and said she was there because she was concerned about a play structure that had been dismantled and she wanted to inspect the kitchen.

Dengler has previously said that when her employer leearned to the incident, she was fired.

Later in the meeting, Dengler complained about why it was taking the district so long to update its sewer connection fees.

“Why is it taking so long,” Dengler said. “To me, that’s a trigger. Something’s going on. Why, yeah, why Chris [Drop]?” Dengler seemed to suggest that something nefarious was taking place with the delay of the connection fee increase.

Drop responded that the delay is a result of having to have the ordinance, required for the increase, reviewed by the attorney. He also noted that there are no pending sewer connection applications currently in Manila.

House A

Work is slowly progressing on what’s called House A at the Manila Community Center.

The project has been underway for a couple of years. Originally, Rotary Club of Arcata Sunrise had planned to simply renovate what was a dilapidated house-like structure at the center.

But as volunteers began inspecting the building and tearing into walls, they found that the structure was sub-par and not up to code for a commercial-grade building.

Ultimately they decided to tear the whole thing down and build a new structure.

Danco offered to pour the foundation and sent over work crews to help with various stages of construction. The building now has an unshingled roof, walls and windows. A door will soon be installed.“It’s close to being buttoned up,” Drop said.

Over the coming months volunteers will complete siding and roofing, and work on the interior.

Drop said the Rotarians donated about $6,000 to the project along with labor. The district has spent $5,500, and will probably spend more before the building is complete.

The small building will most likely house the Manila Family Resource Center, which now operates out of a room at the Manila Community Center.

 







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