BETHEL ISLAND -- Property owners likely will be asked whether they're willing to pay for levee work that's needed to reduce the risk of flooding.

The Bethel Island Municipal Improvement District's board of directors recently hired a consulting firm to guide it through the process of proposing a benefit assessment.

If officials ultimately decide to pursue the levy, it would be the first time the district has asked voters for more money to shore up the island's levee since 2010, when voters rejected a parcel tax measure.

The $44,500 contract with SCI Consulting Group calls for the Fairfield firm to analyze factors that would determine the size of a benefit assessment as well as explain to residents why the district needs additional revenue and assess whether they're receptive to paying more for flood protection.

At the same meeting where directors approved the contract earlier this month, they also adopted a 2014-15 budget that reflects the district's financial straits: Revenue from all sources has dropped by slightly more than $271,000 over the past six years, a decline of nearly 36 percent.

At this point, the district has whittled its staff to seven employees -- only one of them is full time, and four others work only on an as-needed basis -- and it has barely enough money to maintain its levee, let alone strengthen it by inserting steel sheet piles.

The district no longer can afford its share of the cost that the state Department of Water Resources requires of agencies applying for grants to make improvements, said interim District Manager Jeff Butzlaff.

As such, it's had to postpone the Horseshoe Bend project, which is considered one of the most important in the Delta. The undertaking involves constructing a second protective wall inside an original section of levee at the northern end of the island, where strong currents are eroding the earthen barrier.

The overall condition of the levee protecting Bethel Island's approximately 2,300 residents is "precarious," Butzlaff said, and the district must get a benefit assessment passed if it hopes to receive state funding for future upgrades.

John Bliss, vice president of SCI Consulting, echoes those sentiments.

"If they can get (a funding mechanism) in place, they can leverage millions of dollars from the state," he said.

Whereas parcel taxes require two-thirds voter approval, benefit assessments pass with a majority vote.

And instead of requiring all property owners to pay the same amount, an assessment would vary for owners of the 1,794 parcels that are on Bethel Island, according to the county assessor's office. Those parcels include the 560 as-yet undeveloped units that comprise the Delta Coves subdivision.

The levy amount would be based upon how much each of those landowners benefit from a reinforced levee, a computation that's determined by such factors as the size of a parcel and how it's being used, as well as the likelihood of it flooding.

Those who would have to pay more also would receive more votes during the balloting process.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.