In our combined 75 years of public service, we have witnessed many interesting actions by local government agencies. However, one thing we have never seen is a public agency that refuses to pay its bills. It is simply unheard of for a responsible government organization to be delinquent on valid, contractually obligated payments.
But the Moulton Niguel Water District in south Orange County challenged conventional wisdom when it chose last summer to do just that, racking up $755,871 in past-due bills for a facility that is critical to helping protect the region’s economy, canyons and beaches.
The details of this case matter, and the facts follow below.
But our public plea to the Moulton Niguel Water District today is simple: Please, pay past-due bills and uphold future contractually owed payments as we negotiate so we can go about the people’s business.
Now, on to the facts. About 17 years ago, Moulton Niguel Water District requested, and purchased, roughly 30 percent of the capacity in a wastewater treatment plant. Our agencies — the city of Laguna Beach, South Coast Water District and Emerald Bay Service District — own the rest. All four of us are obligated to pay for repairs and replacement projects at the facility based on our percentage of ownership.
It is a simple, straightforward contract common in local governments, especially in south Orange County.
For many years, Moulton Niguel Water District upheld its commitments without issue. That changed last summer when it stopped paying the vast majority of its bills.
To be fair, Moulton Niguel Water District has indicated that it now wants out of its contract. For Laguna Beach, Emerald Bay and South Coast, this request is not an issue. We have been, and remain, willing to negotiate Moulton Niguel Water District’s fair and equitable exit from its contract.
But to stop paying $755,871 in past-due bills as part of this request is neither a reasonable nor rational position. (In the spirit of openness,…