Guy Gertsch seeks a second term on the El Dorado Hills Community Services District Board of Directors to retain the fiscal sanity his board brought to a district that lacked financial leadership and was “spending frivolously on processes and procedures,” he said.
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There were “too many consultants, too much travel, too many colors,” he said, a reference to $100,000 spent to develop a management scorecard that included identifying each manager’s personal color.
“As a taxpayer that set me off,” he said. “A board’s decision-making has to be grounded in fiscal responsibility. We have to listen to the public, learn about the projects, make the decisions, then lead.”
Gertsch points to the fiscal accomplishments of the last four years as evidence that even in bad times, a good board can steer the CSD to sound fiscal footing.
While other park and recreation agencies battle budget deficits with layoffs, park closures and service reductions, his board continued to improve facilities across the board, and also built new parks, practicing prudence to keep upfront building costs and ongoing maintenance demands low.
Gertsch served as board president during a tumultuous 2011 that left him more convinced than ever that strong leadership from both the board and the general manager is essential for the district to thrive.
With a tight grouping of five kids ranging from 13 to 19 years old and a career in transition last year, the 43-year-old husband and father admits that making time for board service wasn’t always easy.
He did it because “I want to make a difference in this community.”
Eight years ago the Gertsch clan moved from Antelope to the Promontory neighborhood near the CSD’s planned Promontory Park, just the second community park in the district’s 50-year existence.
He quickly got sucked into controversy over park plans, volunteering for the Master Plan Advisory Council to better understand the complex regulatory framework behind park planning and funding. Gertsch saw his neighbors battle the CSD over the lights, a fight they ultimately lost, then joined them in a rematch over amenities, advocating a follow-up project that added the popular sprayground, plus playground, picnic and turf areas in the south end of the park (Promontory II).
After a legal battle over park lighting in 2005, and unexpected rock formations that required extensive blasting and asbestos mitigation, the park opened in 2007 with sports fields, tennis and bocce ball courts, a shaded play area, bathrooms and parking.The park was budgeted for $5.3 million and cost $8.2 million, but failed to deliver many of the amenities that neighbors had asked.
“They cut out the family elements,” said Gertsch. “There was no picnic area, no grass and only a small playground.”He got involved to advocate for those amenities, the project which became “Promontory II,” completed in 2007.
Gertsch hoped to heal the emotional wounds left by the lawsuit and a series of ugly confrontations he witnessed between the CSD board and his neighbors in three years of formative board meetings leading up to his first candidacy.
“So now I’ve attended six-and-a-half years of board meetings,” he said. “How many others in this race can say that?”
In addition to Promontory II, Gertsch’s boards completed Jeff Mitchell Field, “an inspirational project that brought everybody together;” Lake Forest Park, “a crown jewel;” the Steven Harris Park renovation and the New York Creek East field renovation, important because it introduces water saving Bermuda grass, which might also work in the Community Park, he said.
The venerable CSD Community Pool got a million-plus dollar facelift, including electronics, decks and locker rooms.
Gertsch takes particular pride in Lake Forest Park, approved a year after voters rejected a combined assessment that included an amenity-stuffed Windsor Point Park.
“We never gave up on Lake Forest,” he said. “We found a way to make it work.”
The above accomplishments were achieved with the economy in a tailspin, taking 15 percent, conservatively, of the district’s property tax revenue down with it.
In the last four years the current board has also turned a meager $50,000 capital deficiency reserve into $4.4 million, plus another $1.2 million in other reserves.
Building the reserve required a couple of staff reorganizations and downsizing through attrition, leaving management positions vacant and asking key managers Sandi Kukkola, Mike Cottrell and Sherry Shannon to step up.
Gertsch sees volunteerism as a “core focus of the future,” an essential cost-saving strategy that also brings the community together.
Current and past board candidates have also talked about strengthening volunteer efforts. Gertsch wants voters to know that his board had done more than talk, with major volunteer projects in each of the last three years.
Hundreds of local Mormons and other volunteers turned out to lend a “helping hand” at Murray Homestead Park three years ago. They’ve since built a rail fence at Promontory Park, built trails and “barked” playground areas in the Community Park.
And it’s not just Mormons. “The church group organized it but lots of non-Mormons were involved,” said Gertsch.
Identifying volunteer opportunities is critical, “but that’s actually the easy part,” he said. “You need a policy, and we’ve got one just about done.”
Volunteer programs don’t just happen, he added. “It takes leadership that understands volunteerism and buys into it.”
General Manager Brent Dennis is one such leader. “That’s one reason we picked him,” said Gertsch, who also promised that volunteerism will be built into the planning and goal-setting process.
“No other board has ever had to deal with an economic climate like this,” he added. “Look at all we’ve accomplished.”