Idyllwild Water District residents will have a choice of five candidates for the three director seats up for election in the August mail-in ballot election. Running for re-election are President Jim Billman and directors Warren Monroe and Dean Lattin, who is in his first election. The two challengers are Steven Kunkle and June Rockwell.
Ballots must be received by election officials no later than the close of the polls on election day or be postmarked on or before election day, Aug. 25, and received no later than three days after election day to be counted.
Before August, the Town Crier will interview each candidate. On Wednesday, Aug. 5, the Town Crier will hold a candidates forum for IWD voters. The forum will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Idyllwild Nature Center.
This candidate interview is with Kunkle. Interviews with directors Billman and Monroe will appear in the July 30 issue of the Town Crier. The interview with Rockwell was published in the July 16 issue of the paper and the Lattin interview is on page 6 of this issue.
TC: Are you a former Idyllwild Fire chief? (Question asked because a former chief shares the same name.)
“No, I retired from Idyllwild Water District in December 2014 after nearly 29 years there,” Kunkle replied.
He has lived on the Hill for 45 years. During the early years, his parents owned and operated the Pine Cove Market and gas station. They still reside in Pine Cove.
Kunkle is a graduate of the Hi-Lo Alternative School, which was here in Idyllwild, and then attended Mt. San Jacinto College. After marriage, he started as a part-time employee at IWD. After three boys, Kunkle was a full-time employee and eventually the manager of the district’s wastewater treatment plant.
TC: What will you contribute to the board?
As a former IWD employee, he has worked extensively in the field on both water and sewer projects. “I know the district inside and out, the weak and strong points,” Kunkle affirmed.
Kunkle believes the board should invest more time and effort in understanding the benefits and costs of the many district projects. “They should ask, ‘What works?’ and, ‘What needs changing?’ The board decides without any or much analysis,” he asserted.
The solar panel array at Foster Lake is an example of a project of which Kunkle is skeptical. He would like to see the details on the cost of the project and the cost of all the maintenance and repairs, such as the new invertors this year. “Has its value been assessed? What are the actual energy savings?” Kunkle asked.
The staff used to provide a report with this information in its board package, but has stopped.
His interest is ensuring the public that its money is being used wisely and effectively.
TC: With respect to revenues and water supply, what should customers expect in the next 12 months? … and the next 5 years?
In response to the question, Kunkle said the district’s budget is too complicated for the general public to understand easily. The monthly financial statements only report on the actual revenues and expenditures for the month compared to an arbitrary budget. Year-to-date totals are only provided upon request, so it is difficult to know the district’s actual budget status.
If elected, Kunkle promised to “look for savings and ensuring adequate staff in field positions.” While the separate water and sewer districts are necessary for taxing and revenue purposes, Kunkle stressed that IWD is too small for separate field staffs.
He encourages more cross training so that field staff can work on projects wherever needed. In his opinion, the field staff is too specialized and too dependent on contractors for the district’s actual maintenance needs.
“Basically, they need to be more self-sufficient,” he said.
TC: How do you assess the district’s infrastructure?
“They don’t do enough in the field. For example, they don’t regularly service valves or exercise pumps.” Kunkle referred to the recent spate of leaks as evidence for his concern about the district’s pipelines.
In his opinion, the district’s choice to contract for much pipeline work, including repairs, has contributed to the condition. In his experience, the more time its staff devotes to repair work, the better they know the condition of the entire pipeline system.
“I don’t think they have a handle on the water resources,” he stated.
The new Tollgate tank was also a target of Kunkle’s criticism. First, he emphasized that its location prevents it from helping any other area of the district. Secondly, its elevation is lower than other tanks, which also inhibits it ability to aid the district’s entire system.
“Simply, it’s a boondoggle,” he said, laughing.
TC: What is the purpose of the recycling facility? How do sewer customers benefit?
“I do see the feasibility of recycled water,” he replied, “but where will they use it?”
Kunkle stressed that the project is a water project benefiting the district’s water customers, not a sewer project, which improves the waste treatment plant.
TC: What is your view on “will serve” letters during stages 2 and 3? Should new development be curtailed?
Kunkle did not offer a specific answer and argued that the district should have more data and analysis in order to make these decisions. For example, he asked, “Do they know the total potential build out in the district and how much water would be needed? More meters have been issued than current demand. How do they know how much the actual water demand is and how new commercial customers will affect it?”
“Being on the board of directors is a community service,” Kunkle stated. “It upset me that they raised the water and sewer rates and then gave themselves a raise. Where do you draw the line between attending meetings and doing this for the people of Idyllwild?
“The incumbents have been there for enough time and it’s time for a change,” he added. “Just because water comes out of the tap is not enough reason for keeping them.”