Declines to approve spending requests
Four of six action items on the Idyllwild Water District’s agenda involved approval of recommendations from the general manager to purchase or proceed with actions that would requires expenditures.
This month, the board decided to limit its expenses and only approved one recommendation — a contract to clean and video inspect the wastewater pipelines. The estimated cost is about $137,000. Another $26,000 may be necessary when IWD secures an encroachment permit from Caltrans in order to inspect 6,000 feet of sewer line along Highway 243.
Decisions on the other three projects were tabled or deferred until Interim General Manager Jack Hoagland develops a less costly and equally effective alternative.
For example, Hoagland presented a proposal from engineering firm Krieger and Stewart to design and repair facilities to measure the diversion from Strawberry Creek and the flow of Lily Creek into Foster Lake. These are new reporting requirements to the State Water Resources Control Board. This regulation is supposed to be implemented by Jan. 1, 2018, Hoagland added.
The estimated design work would cost about $35,000, and construction of the facilities and installation of the measuring equipment would cost about another $75,000.
The first comment from a board member was, “What happens if we don’t have it done by Jan. 1?” asked Director Peter Szabadi. Hoagland replied that it’s possible the state could stop any further diversions because the district was not in compliance with the SWRCB regulation.
Szabadi commented, “$100,000 seems high,” and Director Catherine Dearing asked Hoagland if there was “… something between $100,000 and this wreck [referring to the photo of a decade old weir].”
The board questioned the need to build a concrete weir rather than reconstructing a wooden structure and being prepared to replace it sometime in the future.
“We should just comply with the [regulation] and not try to be the best in the state,” Szabadi concluded. So, Hoagland said he would have the firm reconsider the proposal.
A similar discussion occurred with the proposal to purchase a Caterpillar skid steer loader with accessories. The new equipment would cost about $82,600, but the board again tabled the decision until the next meeting.
“My concern is we’re spending a lot of money and this is not an essential item that you need now,” Szabadi opined.
Then Director Steve Kunkle said, “I think what we have now is adequate. This is a ‘want list’ not a ‘need list.’ I can’t see spending this amount of money.”
The third item was a report from West Yost, evaluating the wastewater treatment plant and options for improvements. Hoagland commented, “With the existing unit, we are 50 years into the 35-to-40-year life,” and added that the proposed changes “are not growth-inducing… but we need to move forward on a more reliable facility.”
A new wastewater facility depending on the details would likely cost IWD about $3 to $4 million. Hoagland is hopeful state grant money will be available for a significant portion of the cost. So, he wanted board approval to continue developing plans for a treatment plant and opening discussion with the state regarding finances.
Tom Paulek, an Idyllwild resident at the meeting, shared, “The proposal needs to be very well thought out even if it is a great cost. Take your time to get good information to evaluate the options.”
The Board also was cautious about proceeding with this recommendation. “I feel part of the report is flawed,” said Kunkle. “We’ve always been in compliance at the plant. I don’t know what has happened. I don’t think it is this plant but the operator … It’s a good start, but where do we go.”
Szabadi expressed his disappointment with the report, also, while President Dr. Charles Schelly said, “I agree it’s expensive, but always something to look at. If it stops working, we have no backup.”
So, the board asked Hoagland to follow up with West Yost about its questions and suggestions offered during the discussion.
Before the meeting ended, Szabadi requested that the staff prepare a new rate study that would address how the district would pay for future costs, such as the projects discussed at this meeting, and how rate tiers should be approached.
Schelly requested that Hoagland present an analysis of the costs to the board of hiring three more staff members over the next 15 years and compare it to the costs of employing contractors to do most of the district’s pipeline work.
Finally, he reported on the district’s compliance with the Brown Act, California’s open government law. After a discussion with the district’s legal counsel, Schelly said, “We are confident that we are in complete compliance. But we acknowledge that we can do better than just compliance, and we want to encourage the vigorous airing and discussion of all issues at all of our events.”