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Armona Water Meeting

There was a packed house for a meeting about rising water bills in Armona Tuesday night. (Seth Nidever/The Sentinel)

ARMONA — As they did last month, frustrated and angry Armona residents swamped the Armona Community Services District meeting Tuesday night to voice their ongoing concern about high water bills.

Residents in this low-income, overwhelmingly Hispanic community are paying water bills of $200 or higher, and they are demanding answers.

District board members, trying to explain through a volunteer translating their words into Spanish, said the bills include debt payments incurred to finance water treatment for arsenic standards imposed by the federal government in 2006.

The expensive treatments, which are forcing the community to drill a new well to find cleaner water, have caused the district to borrow money that the town’s approximately 1,350 households can ill afford.

That has jacked up the rates to the point where some residents say they can’t continue to pay.

“Some families barely make $1,000 a month,” said Armona homeowner Sylvia Martinez. “They’re barely meeting the necessities to survive. Now they get these high water bills. We need to really push on getting the grants.”

Many objected to a recent state study that determined that the median income in Armona is $47,481, which exceeds the qualifying limit for grant money for low-income California communities to clean up their water.

“There are a lot of people that don’t make that much,” said Odilon Gutierrez, speaking in Spanish.

Board members and others say the study was flawed because it included wealthier farmers and landowners outside Armona. Board members said they’re working to get the study redone to more accurately reflect the average income of the town’s residents.

“[The study] included farmers that make $500,000 to $1 million a year,” said Armona developer Jerry Irons. “The problem is, Armona is poor. It’s been mixed with wealthier people.”

Some residents brought up the name of Tony Barba, who wasn’t in attendance.

Barba also wasn’t present at the board’s regular meeting in November.

Damien Douglas, a field representative for state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, did attend Tuesday. So did Justin Mendes, field representative for Assemblyman David Valadao, R-Hanford. Valadao will become Kings County’s new representative in the U.S. House of Representatives in January.

“Sen. Rubio is aware of what’s going on,” Douglas told the audience. “I don’t know if he can help or not help. His door is open.”

“I’m here because [Valadao] cares about the community and the water issues,” Mendes told The Sentinel in an interview.

For the first time in board history, all the documents handed out at the meeting were in Spanish and English.

The water bill issue has brought Spanish-speaking residents to the meetings who have never come before.

Some people asked why Hanford doesn’t incorporate Armona into its boundaries to help out with the water bills.

Board members told them Hanford doesn’t want to widen its boundaries to take in Armona. Others complained about Kettleman City getting grant money and assistance that Armona has failed to win.

Kettleman City recently received an $8 million state grant to help build a new water treatment facility.

Board members tentatively suggested a town hall meeting for Dec. 4 to further discuss water bill issues. The time hasn’t’t been decided.

Meanwhile, board member Jim Maciel urged residents to contact every county, state and federal representative they can to ask for help.

“The more people call, the more they’ll listen,” Maciel said.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 or snidever@HanfordSentinel.com

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