Friday, April 6, 2012

Kern County: Senator Seeks Grand Jury Investigation On Athal Mutual Water Company

Sen. Michael Rubio Seeking Transparency, Accountability
Christine Dinh - 23ABC East Bakersfield Reporter
The residents near Lamont whose water well broke last month have received refreshing news. Sen. Michael Rubio wants the grand jury to investigate that area's water district.

Athal Mutual Water Company serves more than 50 homes in the impoverished community of Hilltop near Lamont.

Last month, residents there lost water supply after a well operated by Athal broke down.

Families were without water for several days until local firefighters brought in emergency supplies of water.

Currently, the privately owned water district is buying temporary water supplies from neighboring East Niles Community Services District.

The state and USDA have fast-tracked the construction of a new well, which is expected to be complete in two weeks.

Athal will be in charge of operating the new well.

Athal, has not responded to any public record information requests by residents or Rubio's office, so he is asking the Kern County Grand Jury to conduct an in-depth investigation of Athal in hopes of finding out more than just what caused the water well failure.

"To try to find out what was the cause of it and where's the transparency and the accountability of this privately owned water district," said Rubio.

Rubio and residents want to know how Athal functions, how much it pays staff, what are its fee assessment procedures and other financial documentation. Customers continue to pay $75 per month for water service and $50 per incident assessment.

"Seventy-five dollars for water I can't drink, water I have to boil? That's nonsense. That's not right. What kind of job are these people doing out here? I've never seen maintenance go into that water well. I've never seen things done to it," said Athal customer Jimmy Carbajal.

Athal President Jerry Case interrupted the press conference to defend the company's actions, saying rates and fees go toward operations costs and the company's treasury, especially now that they'll have a new well.

"So we got to have money in our treasury to keep up. If that well goes down again, it's on us. And if we don't have money in our treasury, we're out of water again. That's what the assessment fee is for," said Case.

Case says he's not worried about a grand jury investigation.

"That's fine. I have nothing to hide. I make a good living. I work. I don't need anybody's money. I work," said Case.

Rubio said he expects a response by the grand jury in the next few months.

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