Ballots may soon be mailed to Camarillo's water ratepayers to determine whether they want to subsidize reduced rates for farmers who claim they may otherwise be put out of business by expected increases this summer.
The City Council unanimously decided Wednesday to schedule a June 17 public hearing on the subsidy.
The council decided that if mail-in balloting is conducted, ballots would be mailed no later than Aug. 24 and be due back to City Hall by Sept. 23. A similar vote-by-mail election was held last summer that enabled seniors to continue to receive reduced water rates.
Councilman Bill Liebmann requested that staff members return to the June 17 meeting with various rate structures and subsidy schedules.
The subsidy, which is expected to cost about 10,000 city water customers less than 60 cents each per month, would be provided to about 18 growers who farm within city limits.
Rates are expected to increase for the agricultural use of water from 83 cents per cubic foot to $1.14. This translates to an increase of about $500 per acre.
Farmer Craig Underwood said water for agriculture in Camarillo is already about six times higher than on the Oxnard Plain.
"As the cost goes up, the land value goes down," Underwood told the council.
If the rates were to increase without a subsidy, Underwood said he could be put out of business.
"At the same time you have people asking to preserve farmland . . . they don't see the types of pressures that push farmers to want to convert," Underwood said.
"One of them is water rates."
The only other option, Underwood said, is for farmers to put in their own wells. But to economically justify the wells, farmers would need to have about 200 acres and none of the farms within city limits are that large.
Although resident Jim Gorum said he supports subsidizing farmers to preserve farmland, he said farmers should repay ratepayers if the growers later decide to sell out to developers.