New director, transparency policies and capital improvement plan

The directors of Idyllwild Water District had a long, busy and productive meeting on March 21. They filled a vacancy (see accompanying story and separate interview), adopted open government resolutions, and discussed capital improvement priorities and the state water-tax proposal.

Transparency resolutions

The board unanimously adopted resolutions on how to implement the California Public Records Act and the Ralph M. Brown Act.

Audience member Sue Nash said the resolutions were not necessary if the board was simply affirming its intent to comply with the state laws. Rather, a board resolution should identify and discuss where the district plans to go beyond what is in the legislation.

“The public shouldn’t have to compare your policy with the laws. If your policy contradicts the acts, then there’s no reason for it, except where you have some discretion,” she argued.

Audience member Tom Paulek re-stated his recommendation that IWD record and keep the recordings of its meetings. This would be a better sign of transparency, in his opinion.

Capital investments

General Manager Jack Hoagland presented a capital improvement plan for the next 10 fiscal years. His proposal would spend about $1 million next fiscal year and a total of $6.4 million over the 10-year period.

In fiscal year 2018-19, which begins July 1, Hoagland offered eight water projects, costing nearly $850,000, and four sewer system projects for $175,000.

The most costly water project was replacing about 2,600 feet of pipeline along Village Center Drive to North Circle for $520,000. The pipe is old, and the project continues the pipeline work done last summer from Bicknell and Marion View drives.

The county Transportation Department has already told the district it plans to re-surface and re-pave this area in 2019. Consequently, Hoagland emphasized the importance and cost savings of doing the work this fall rather than after the county completes the road improvements.

Other capital projects included replacing smaller pipes, the aeration system at the Foster Lake facility, fire-hydrant improvements and the initial installation of new water meters that could be read via radio rather the current drive-by and touch meters.

In general, the board was concerned whether IWD had sufficient money, including reserves, to finance all of the proposed projects. Director Steve Kunkle specifically recommended a lower amount, and deferring the Village Center Drive pipeline project in order to replace older and more vulnerable pipe in other areas.

“I’m gun shy about the new meters, especially their cost,” Director Catherine Dearing said. The $40,000 proposed for the first step of the new meter installation would replace meters for commercial and institutional customers, and the 20 largest residential users, according to Hoagland. Another $125,000, over three years, would replace the remaining residential meters.

Director Peter Szabadi was not confident of the estimate for the pipeline replacement costs because the per-foot cost was much less than the work done last summer. He is worried that an actual bid may be substantially higher than the estimate.

Ultimately, the board advised Hoagland it would be more comfortable spending about $700,000 on capital improvements next year. Also, the results of the current rate study will affect future budgets, they agreed.

Stand-by fees

May 16 was set as the date for public hearings on the IWD stand-by fees for undeveloped lots in the water and sewer districts. The proposed fee would continue at the $30 per-acre or portion amount.

Water consumption

Although the district has urged customers to conserve water, board members were surprised by the actual amount of reduced water consumption. In January, water production was 500,000 gallons less than in 2017 with another 25,000-gallon drop in February.

As a result, water revenues are below the budget estimates. For February, actual costs were $38,000 more than revenue collected.

In other business, Hoagland presented a draft of a new water-shortage contingency plan. The draft puts much greater emphasis on identifying the district’s water supply and comparing it to actual demand, Hoagland said.

After some discussion, a committee composed of directors Kunkle and Director Dave Hunt, was established to work with the general manager to formulate a policy for the board’s approval.

In response to Nash’s comments about the merit and level of the district’s legal expenses, Szabadi recommended establishing a committee to review these issues. Kunkle will join him to do this work. There was some discussion of the possibility of adding a district resident to the committee.