Running for the board of the Georgetown Divide Public Utility District is Pat Snelling, 65.
A resident of Garden Valley, but not a ratepayer in the district, Snelling is vying for the seat of incumbent Norm Krizl.
Snelling says her qualifications for the job include a degree in Agriculture from Sierra College plus one year’s experience working for the California Department of Water Resources. She also worked for 12 years as a communication technician and is now retired.
Saying that water is her passion, Snelling maintains that her main beefs with the district are how it spends its money and the extent to which the board provides oversight of General Manager Hank White.
As a board member she said she wants a reasonable budget. “The deficit in 2009 was over a million dollars. The budget presented in June called for five more years of deficit spending. That’s not a way to run a district.” She said she would remedy it by cutting unnecessary spending.
As one example of excessive spending, Snelling brought up the now abandoned Greenwood Treatment Plant upgrade.
“We were going to build an $8 million plant, then it went to $20 million and then it went poof. What happened to it? Nobody knows. The board has to be accountable. It has to lay out the information. The general manager needs to be challenged why he closed the Greenwood Treatment Plant. All we ever got from the board was ‘we already decided, we don’t need to talk about it.’ What does that mean? That’s what I want to change.”
Snelling also complained about rate increases over the past few years and the amount of compensation received by the general manager. “In 2010 we had a 15 percent rate hike, in 2011 we had a 5 percent rate hike, in 2012 another 5 percent rate hike, then this year another $7. It’s time to stop looking for new revenue and look at what’s costing so much.
“Hank gets $156,000 a year. His total (compensation) package is more than $230,000. And EID’s (El Dorado Irrigation District) general manager, who has degrees and excessive experience, doesn’t get paid as much. White’s income is 10 percent of a ratepayer’s bill. EID is less than 1 percent. It’s way out of whack. Three employees (at the district) make more than $100,000 with a full package of benefits. They can’t afford that. Blue collar workers have taken cuts to their benefits. We’re asking everyone to cut their budget, why can’t they?”
(According to current salary and compensation information from GDPUD and EID, White’s total compensation is $174,432 and total compensation for EID’s general manager is $228,383.)
Snelling also objected to the process used to find a replacement for retiring Business and Finance Manager Mary Pat Frick. She said the bidding process could have been more open and her replacement should be paid much less.
“Do we need to hire another accountant at the exorbitant rate of $130,000 a year plus full benefits? Why can’t we bring someone in at a lower rate and then increase their wages over time?” she asked.
Aside from cost issues, Snelling said she is upset by what she calls a lack of transparency on the part of the board. As examples, she cited the board allowing White to sign off on a grant the district received to help cover some of the cost of the Auburn Lake Trails (ALT) retrofit. She thought the board should have seen the grant contract beforehand.
In another example, she complained that the board had no input into the pre-qualification package released to potential bidders for the ALT retrofit. She said if the board had participated, they might have wanted to add into the evaluation process extra points for firms that were local and that would hire a certain percentage of women and vets.
She also objected to the requirement that potential bidders have previous experience working for a utility district. “That is not the qualification you need,” she said. “You need experts in cement, experts on piping, experts on electricity, experts on filter systems. A general contractor is supposed to watch over everything. You don’t ask for an expert in utility districts. That’s what you have your engineer do.”
Getting the district back on track
Snelling claims she would be a better board member than Krizl because she would keep a closer watch on district spending.
“Taking care of the public’s funds is the board’s No. 1 responsibility,” she said. “I will speak up for ratepayers and will fight for them. The district is not a profit-making business. Ratepayers are stock owners of the district. We don’t want to end up like Stockton — bankrupt because they overspent. We have a responsibility. Every dime that is overspent comes from the reserve fund that’s supposed to pay for water treatment plants and repairs. We can’t be wasting it on lawsuits, overpayments and change orders.”
Saying that more oversight is needed, she said that the board has abdicated its responsibility. “I question if they even read the agenda. I really do.”
Snelling said the quality of water in the district is the best but she hears complaints about its price and availability. She thinks that if the district held a few night meetings during the year, more members of the public could attend and express their problems directly to the board. “It’s a big district. Why not a meeting in Cool and Kelsey?” she asked.
She also thought that cutting back some of White’s benefits would help. “The district needs to remember we’re not a profit-making machine, not an ATM machine, not the federal reserve, not an open pocketbook. If it needs money, the public will step up and help them. But to give a $48,000 raise in one year (for White), that’s unreasonable. They cut employee benefits. What’s wrong with Hank stepping up to the plate too?”
When it comes to new opportunities for the district, she said the district has paid for consulting services to explore re-acquiring additional water rights and potentially a dam for the area. She suggested the district might be able to get back another 5,000 feet of water rights that could go to those on the waiting list for irrigation water.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.