Les Gin newest director

At its June 20 meeting, the Idyllwild Water District Board of Directors was busier than normal. Not only did it hold a public hearing on the proposed new water and sewer rates (see accompanying story on page A1), but the board filled a vacant director’s seat, approved a budget for next fiscal year, formed a committee to explore Hill water district consolidation, and rejected incentives to attract new employees to Idyllwild.

New director

Leslie Gin takes the oath of office as the recently appointed Idyllwild Water District director.
Photo by JP Crumrine

Leslie Gin, a retired banker and financier, was selected to fill the director’s seat vacated when Catherine Dearing resigned in May.

He moved to Idyllwild from Arizona in late 2016. For more than 40 years, he has served in the financial industry. He has volunteered for many public boards in the Phoenix and Tucson areas. His public service includes a hospital and a community college.

In his presentation to the board, Gin said, “I will be here with fresh eyes and look at issues objectively. I’ll listen to constituents in order to form a consensus.”

Sue Nash, a retired educator and still an active environmental attorney, was the other applicant for the seat.

Director David Hunt asked each candidate how they would recruit and retain staff.

Gin replied, “Training is critical.” He discussed his banking experiences shepherding staff from teller to higher-level positions. Nash replied that the district’s employee-benefits package was the critical component. She recommended the district return to Cal-PERS, which Fern Valley and Pine Cove Water districts use, for employee retirement and other post-employment benefits.

No other questions were posed. Director Peter Szabadi nominated Gin and the board unanimously selected him as its newest member,

Gin is the second director appointed this year, and the fourth in the past 19 months. Although he replaces Dearing, she was appointed to replace Vic Sirkin, who resigned in July 2017. This was too late to remove his name from the August 2017 ballot. Subsequently, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors appointed him to a four-year term. With the change in the IWD election years, the term expires in December 2022. Gin will have to run for election for the remaining two years of the term.

2018-19 budget

The budget for fiscal year 2018-19, which begins July 1, was approved unanimously 4-0. New director Gin voted for the budget. Director Steve Kunkle recused himself from this vote and stepped out of the room.

As a former IWD employee, he continues to benefit from retiree health insurance and post-

employment benefits.

The Idyllwild Water District conference last week was packed with customers opposed to the proposed water and sewer rate increases. Among the public attending the meeting are (front row, from left) Dwight “Buzz” Holmes, David Lilieholm, and Vic and Kate Sirkin. In the middle row (from left) are Nancy Borchers of Pine Cove, Diedre Vail of Walnut, and Laura Sherman. In the back row (from left) are Peter Capparelli, and Yvonne and Jeff Smith of Pine Cove. Photo by JP Crumrin

The proposed water revenue is projected to increase about $106,000 based on the rate changes, to $1.4 million. Much of this will come from residential customers whose total costs — base and usage — will grow from $778,000 to $908,000, while commercial customers will absorb a $13,000 increase to $425,000 total costs.

Excluding IWD’s capital-improvement program ($700,000) and depreciation of capital ($218,000), IWD anticipates the water program will have a net operating margin of $270,000 and after funding the capital program, reserves will be tapped for about $425,000.

The board did make one change to the budget. Kunkle objected to the removal of several pipeline projects to be done exclusively with IWD staff. “We need to show constituents we’re trying to save money,” he implored his colleagues.

Directors Hunt and Szabadi agreed that IWD should fund a pipeline replacement project that IWD staff could install. At the suggestion of Kunkle, the board removed a repaving project and replaced it with a small pipeline project.

The sewer budget projects another $35,000 in revenue. At the end of the fiscal year, the sewer budget (before depreciation and capital investment) would show a net margin of $260,000. The $175,000 capital program lowers that to $85,000 compared to about $70,000 this year.

Consolidation committee

In response to frequent public comments encouraging the board to pursue discussions with FVWD and PCWD over the possibility of consolidation, Szabadi recommended the board establish a committee to explore this idea.

President Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly appointed director Szabadi, Gin and a public member, Sue Nash, to the committee.

During the meeting, Pine Cove resident Jeff Smith frequently offered reasons why residents of the other two districts would be reluctant to combine with IWD. Basically, previous IWD boards have fomented distrust.

However, fellow Pine Cove resident and Idyllwild property owner Marge Muir encouraged the board to proceed. She referred to the former Hill joint powers agency — the San Jacinto Mountain Area Water Study Agency — as a time when the districts cooperated and worked together on a common goal.

Several people, including Szabadi, stressed that “consolidation” was not the goal; rather, IWD should seek to find paths that would improve and broaden cooperation among the three districts. He said, “If not consolidation, maybe cooperation. I’ll urge that we do some projects together.”

“The different districts must have different strengths,” said Deidre Vail, a part-time Idyllwild resident from Walnut. “Look for the best practices in Pine Cove, Fern Valley and Idyllwild. Maybe you could save a lot of money.”

Supporting this view was Dwight “Buzz” Holmes of Idyllwild: “Why not look at what we can do and bring out the best management of all, not just IWD take over.”

Nash advised that cooperation could take many forms besides consolidation into one district, such as a simple memorandum of agreement or a community-service district. She recommended that the committee contact the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission for information and advice.

Employee incentive

General Manager Jack Hoagland suggested the board consider offering an incentive to some employees to reside within 6 miles of the district. The field staff is responsible for being “on-call” for emergencies. For those who live farther, such as in Banning or beyond Hemet, it takes considerable time to respond to situations in Idyllwild, he said.

Hoagland thought a $400 monthly stipend might encourage staff and new staff to move closer.

While the board recognized the value of this policy, it preferred to explore staff retention policies broader than just one. Consequently, it decided not to approve this step now.