Running against incumbent Bonnie Neeley for a position on the board of the Georgetown Divide Public Utility District, is Maria Capraun.
A resident of Georgetown, but not a ratepayer, Capraun said she is running because she’s retired now and has time to serve on the board. In addition she feels the district “is really heading in the wrong direction.”
Capraun described her qualifications as that of a concerned citizen and a former board clerk.
“I am familiar with board duties. I have created policies and procedures. I have followed the district for many years. But your true qualification is that you reside within the district,” she said.
Capraun said she’s very familiar with how the district operates and its infrastructure as she used to work for the U.S. Forest Service and one of her duties was monitoring the water level at Stumpy Meadows. Her last position was with the Garden Valley Fire Protection District where she worked as an administrative officer and board clerk before retiring.
She stated the district budget is one of her biggest concerns. She claims that for the last four years, the district has run a deficit according to their audits. “And the district is projecting $90,000 budget deficits in future years,” she said.
“These are their documents. I didn’t make anything up,” she said. “The district is not doing well financially. It is financially sound as a whole, but if you follow their budget trends, they are decreasing their net assets every year. They do have a surplus, but you don’t want to use it just for operating expenses.”
Capraun also questions the $250,000 compensation package that General Manager Hank White receives. She claimed that, in comparison, the compensation package for the general manager of El Dorado Irrigation District is $210,000. “Is that justifiable?” she asked. “That’s an issue.”
White’s salary $150,000 and the EID GM’s salary is $165,000.
Saying that she would be a better board member than the incumbent, Capraun said Neeley has not represented the best interests of the public. She said Neeley ran on a platform of making cuts, but in her first year, employees received a 4 percent raise in salary and the fiscal year ended with a deficit of $1.2 million in net assets.
Capraun asserts she is not an advocate for lowering water rates, but she does think that more prudent financial management is needed. “We have to be more responsible in our handling of issues.”
Capraun said the now abandoned plans for the Greenwood Plant were a fiasco because they included a far more complex and expensive treatment process than was needed. She also claimed the retrofit of the Auburn Lake Trails Treatment Plant (ALT) could have been completed using a less costly treatment method.
“ALT does need upgrading. But the loan is for 40 years when the life of the plant is 40 years. That’s not responsible. You need to work on what you need to fix as you go along instead of increasing the rate to ratepayers.”
Capraun said at this point she wants the district to continue working with the state on the retrofit, but would prefer that plans be scaled back and the work be more within the means of the district.
Capraun believes there are solutions that address both fiscal shortfalls and threats to the area’s water supply. One is to increase the customer base by making connection fees more competitive. She said she decided to drill a well on her property rather than hook up to the district because of the sizeable difference in cost. Currently she says it costs $9,200 to hook up to the district.
Another solution is to reduce the amount of water lost each year. Capraun claims the district loses 40 percent of its water on a yearly basis from evaporation and loss.
“The state may take our water because it looks like the district is not taking good care of it,” she said. ”We have to show that we need the water we have.”
Her solution is to install more pipes in the ditches so that even if the district’s water allocation is reduced, it won’t affect the area because less water is lost.”The ditch system is what the district was built on, but I’d like to replace it with a system of pipes as much as possible and add more ditch customers.”
Capraun also thought the water district should work more closely with the fire department to both increase water storage capacity and jointly pursue grants. She said the chance of being awarded a grant would be higher if it was a joint project.
More policies and procedures
Capraun complained of a lack of accountability at the district both on the part of staff and the board. She attributes that to a lack of policies and procedures and abdication on the board’s part of its responsibilities.
“The board is supposed to set procedures and guidelines and the staff implements them. The board does not do this and does not understand their job. They are an issue. That is why I am running. You need to be accountable and they are not.”
As an example, she cited the accounting services contract that was approved at the board’s Oct. 9 meeting. She thought the final contract should have been approved by the board rather than leaving it to the general manager.
“Why say yes to something when there is so little information presented?” she asked. “They (staff) did it responsibly — maybe — but you needed to give it to the board to make the decision.” Capraun thought what was needed was a policy for the general manager to follow on how a contract would be presented to the board when an employee resigns.
Capraun said that in general, ratepayers are happy with the quality of water they receive from the district. “We have very good water,” she said, “but the quality of service is an issue.”
She said it takes too long for staff to get back to people with a complaint or a question. “That’s a sign that something is wrong. All of that stuff can be addressed with policies. We need uniformity in everything we do.”
In closing, Capraun said she would really like to see a new direction for the board and some unity. “I just want more,” she said.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or email@example.com. Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.