Idyllwild Water customers continue to conserve: Board laments declining revenues, rejects lowering compensation

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Money and finances were the dominant topics during the April 20 Idyllwild Water District meeting. While customers have diligently been conserving water, the revenue stream appears to be declining, according to General Manager Tom Lynch.

While water production was less in March compared to March 2015, revenue, according to Hosny Shouman, chief financial officer, was nearly $11,700 less than anticipated.

Oddly, revenue still was about $2,000 greater than the April 2015 water revenue, when production was about 700,000 gallons more.

Helping the finances was a “substantial variance between the budgeted expenses and the actual expenses” in March, according to Director John Cook. Shouman had budgeted costs for the water fund of $114,000 and the actual expenses were $74,500, yielding net income of more than $10,000 in March. Lynch also opined that customer conservation also contributed to the reduced expenses.

November has been the only month this fiscal year where the water fund has had a deficit. Total net revenue through March is greater than $95,000 and expenses are $185,000 less than budgeted.

However, Lynch has successfully pursued grant funding to supplement revenues. The largest will be about $150,000 for pipeline replacement. The money will come from Riverside County’s Community Development Block Grant. IWD will have to match the grant to install about 3,000 feet of pipe.

“We’ll focus on the areas with the most problems or the oldest pipes,” Lynch told the board.

The other grant for about $25,000 is a request for Homeland Security money to improve security.

At the request of Director Steve Kunkle, Lynch placed the review of director compensation on the agenda. The current IWD director compensation is $100 per meeting, including board, committee and other meetings. Fern Valley and Pine Cove water districts pay their directors $50 per meeting and the Idyllwild Fire Protection District provides no compensation to its commissioners.

Kunkle argued that IWD was paying more than $13,000 annually compared to the other two local districts, whose total director compensation was less than $3,000 annually.

While he admitted he had accepted the compensation since he joined the board in December, he promised to decline it going forward, as Director June Rockwell has since she joined the board.

In commenting on the staff survey of water-board compensation in other Southern California districts, Kunkle said, “To me, the survey represents I’m entitled to the stipend because everybody else gets something and some get more.”

He argued, “We are all public servants and should donate our time for the benefit of the community … I know you work hard at this position. It’s demanding of your time and a sacrifice. But this will build trust with our constituents, especially if we need to raise rates.”

In response, President Jim Billman said, “You could have good government with or without a stipend or bad government with or without a stipend.” Reducing or eliminating the board’s compensation would have no effect on the community’s opinion of the board, opined Billman.

Supporting him, Director Mike Freitas said, “I don’t want to give up the money because of what others might think. We’re doing a good job.”

While Kunkle and Rockwell voted to reduce compensation, directors Billman, Freitas and John Cook, who called it just a token, opposed the idea, defeating it 3-2.

In water business, IWD produced about 5 million gallons of water in March, which was about 500,000 gallons less than March 2015 and 27,000 gallons less than February.

For the first quarter of 2016, IWD production is 4 percent below the 2015 first-quarter production; but this year was about 500,000 gallons more than the first quarter of 2014.

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