Garberville Sanitary District’s controversial annexation plans were not on the agenda of the GSD board of directors’ business meeting last Wednesday, May 16, but the issue dominated public comment during the time set aside for non-agendized subjects.
Since the board’s last meeting on April 24, GSD capital projects coordinator Jennie Short met with Southern Humboldt Community Park executive director Kathryn Lobato to discuss the possibility of including all of SHCP within the district’s new boundaries while adding a "service zone" overlay that would restrict water service only to those areas previously served with water. (See related article in our May 1 issue.)
Members of the public were concerned that because meetings between GSD and SHCP were not public, the process lacked transparency.
GSD chair Herb Schwartz explained that district staff and one or two board members have the right to meet with other parties privately in order to conduct business and allow the parties to feel able to speak freely.
One speaker said she was particularly concerned about bringing all of SHCP into the district, which might then trigger inclusion of the entire park property into a county Housing Opportunity Zone. She said she was disturbed about potential impacts of increased development on the river. Discussions should be transparent to the public because "we are all stakeholders," she said.
But another speaker, a member of the SHCP board of directors, pointed out that GSD staff or individual board members often speak privately with ratepayers, and SHCP is a ratepayer "just like any other ratepayer."
Short said her meeting with Lobato resulted in a map showing a proposed area for the service zone, and that she was continuing to research the feasibility of the service zone. All of this information will be made available to the public at the same time it becomes available to the board prior to the June board meeting, she said.
At its meeting last Tuesday morning, the Humboldt Local Agency Formation Commission approved GSD’s request to add two stub-outs to the new drinking water pipeline down Sprowel Creek Road to the Kimtu subdivision.
For now this pipeline is still owned by the Kimtu Mutual Water Company as part of the agreement with the California Department of Public Health, which funded the project. The line is restricted to use by the 20 homes in the Kimtu subdivision.
GSD hopes to connect the five residences on Leino Lane to the pipeline once the project is complete and the district takes ownership of the line. Leino Lane is currently served inadequately by only one 3/4" water line.
GSD requested permission to add the stub-outs before County Public Works repaves Sprowel Creek Road next month. The actual connections will be added only when GSD’s annexation application is approved by LAFCo.
Furthermore, CDPH must also approve the connections because it funded the pipeline specifically to make sure that the Kimtu subdivision would have adequate treated water for both domestic use and fire suppression.
Budget projections for the balance of fiscal year 2011/12, which ends June 30, are looking gloomy, with a projected deficit of nearly $20,000 for wastewater operations and an $80,000 deficit on the drinking water side.
The wastewater deficit is caused by a shortfall of income. When rates were increased, GSD failed to properly notify commercial customers under the requirements of Proposition 218. Therefore, until increases are re-noticed and customers are allowed sufficient time to protest, revenue from businesses and other non-residential users will continue to fall below budget expectations.
The deficit in the drinking water budget is caused by higher than projected expenses. Short’s report attributes cost overruns on the water treatment project to "the magnitude of the changes that were made on the project over the past seven years," including using three different engineering firms.
Higher utilities costs and additional wages paid to operations manager Ron Copenhafer while he was training new personnel also contributed to increased expenses.
If Short’s estimates are correct and recommended budget adjustments are made, which means reducing expenses for the rest of the fiscal year, GSD should "barely break even," she said in her written report.
On the other hand, cash flow projections for the next fiscal year, 2012/13, beginning on July 1, show a significant cash surplus. Short cautioned the board, however, that the surplus does not include the cost of property acquisition for the storage tank site, which is now being negotiated.
CDPH has assured the district of a grant/loan package to fund the project but this funding requires the district to make claims for reimbursement as expenses occur rather than awarding GSD a cash sum from which it can draw on as needed.
One possibility, once GSD has an agreement with the sellers, is to go into escrow for the property, include payment terms as a condition of escrow, and present that document to CDPH as a claim.
But Short noted that this would require a long escrow period, at least 60 days, because CDPH takes a long time to process and pay claims.
Following the business meeting, the board discussed the property acquisition in closed session, as allowed under the California Open Meeting Act (Brown Act).
As part of the budget discussion, a member of the public asked if the owners of property being annexed into the district could be charged for a share of the cost of annexation, since presumably they would benefit from annexation.
Short replied that only properties already served were being annexed, the purpose of the annexation being to bring existing out-of-district service within the boundaries.
Asked for his legal opinion, GSD’s counsel Russ Gans said that the district has an obligation to review and update its sphere of influence and to annex existing out-of-district services, so those costs cannot be passed on to property owners. If a landowner requests annexation of a currently unserved property, the district can negotiate a cost-sharing agreement.
GSD’s next regular board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 26, beginning at 5 p.m. Annexation will be on the agenda at that meeting.