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Debt, rates at heart of EID race

By: Eric Laughlin, Telegraph correspondent
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Two El Dorado Hills businessmen are fighting for an opportunity to represent the local district of the El Dorado Irrigation District over the next four years. They include incumbent Harry Norris and challenger Alan Day. Norris, 67, has held the District 5 post since first being elected in 2003. In addition to that position, the former service station owner also sits on the board at Marshall Medical Center, the El Dorado Water and Power Authority, the county agency formation commission and the local taxpayer association. Norris, who says he’s driven to serve the people of his community in an effort make a difference, credits himself with victory in a battle he waged to end higher pumping rates for El Dorado Hills residents. “That was a milestone,” he said of the pumping rate adjustment. “People in El Dorado Hills were being charged $20 more than everybody else. It took me a couple years, but we were able to end it. Those are the types of victories that keep you going.” Norris said he also resents an attitude by some in the county government that El Dorado Hills residents are wealthy, and therefore should be content with a higher water and sewer bill. “I call it the BMW factor,” he said. “They think we’re all rich down here and in reality we’re not.” But plenty of criticism has been aimed directly at incumbent Norris, and much of it has been leveled by opponent Alan Day. Day, 52, owns and operates an El Dorado Hills-based landscaping business. He said water and sewer rates, as well as the water agency’s debt, have shot up to unacceptable levels since Norris took office. In particular, he claims El Dorado Hills residents pay 50-plus percent more in sewer rates than average neighboring communities. According to Day’s website, EID’s debt has tripled to nearly $400 million in the past eight years, and overall rates for El Dorado Hills have nearly doubled over that same timeframe. “I been watching my bill get higher and higher and eventually go through the roof,” he said. “Even when I cut back usage, my bill still shoots up. It’s as high as a car payment for a lot of people and in some cases, as high as a mortgage payment.” When asked about such claims, Norris said Day’s numbers are flat out wrong. “He says our sewer rates are 50 percent more than similar communities, but if you look at a list of what all the others in our region pay, there are just three that pay less than us. We pay $129.49 on our bi-monthly bills. But for the same period Placerville pays $212.55, Colfax $204.50.” Norris added that Day’s calculation that the debt has tripled under his tenure is wrong because it includes numbers from before he took office. Another of Day’s concerns with the water agency is what he calls an imbalance between the rates paid by El Dorado Hills residents and the amount they contribute by way of their property tax. “What the EID incumbents don’t like to talk about is the nearly $10 million of property tax money EID gets from ratepayers annually,” he said. “Over 70 percent of that comes from El Dorado Hills, in addition to the big bills we pay for water and sewer.” Day has said he hopes to cut District 5 rates and possibly roll them back, But Norris said such a feat is not possible at a time when higher maintenance and equipment costs continue to be the norm. “With rising costs that are out of our control, the rates have gone up every year and they’ll probably continue to go up as long as we’re around,” Norris said.