The IOOF Hall in Georgetown was abuzz with excitement on Sunday as the Divide Chamber of Commerce held a Candidates Fair that, for the first time, included everyone running for public office on the Divide.
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Present for the event were candidates running for the Georgetown Divide Public Utility District (GDPUD), Georgetown Divide Recreation District, El Dorado County Protection District, Garden Valley Fire Protection District, Georgetown Fire Protection District, and Black Oak Mine Unified School District.
The event included a meet and greet period with the candidates, presentations by those running for office, root beer floats, hot dogs, and plenty of red, white, and blue banners, balloons, buttons, flags and campaign hats.
During the forum, each candidate was given 3 to 4 minutes to present their case for why they should be elected. Anyone exceeding the time limit was honked down by Chamber President Ken Calhoon, who acted as emcee. The 100-plus members of the audience also submitted questions to the candidates with those running for the GDPUD board fielding most of them.
Incumbent Norm Krizl, who is running against Patricia Snelling, focused on statewide water issues saying that as a GDPUD board member he serves on the board of the Mountain Counties Water Resource Association. “State agencies are coming after our water,” he said. “Mountain counties supply well over half of the water that flows through the delta but they want 75 percent of the water from the foothills to free flow into the delta.”
Krizl noted that one of the things the state water board is talking about is using Google Earth to figure out people’s backyard and front yard footprint so they can tell how much water they’re allowed to use. “Then they’ll use GDPUD to force it on you,” he said. “They’re telling us they want to see the science that makes it necessary for us to use the water. But we don’t need science to justify that. They just want to send water to Southern California.”
Krizl said if re-elected he would continue to participate on the Mountain Counties water board and represent the area’s interests.
Pat Snelling, a retired communications technician, spoke next. Running against Krizl, she said she has studied water issues for 30 years. Snelling said she was troubled by the lack of board oversight and claimed that for four years the district had run a deficit and covered it by using reserves. She also said Krizl had voted to raise rates four times. Saying she wanted to change the board’s ethics and civility, she accused board members and staff of using district funds to pay for lunches. She also said she wanted to see better planning and direction for the district and questioned why Krizl hadn’t talked to Rep. Tom McClintock about his support of HR 1837, the San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act.
Another challenger to speak was Maria Capraun who is running against incumbent Bonnie Neeley. Capraun is a retired administrative assistant. She repeated the claim that the district has had deficits over the last four years. She said the board has no oversight of the general manager and cited as an example, the upcoming board meeting where General Manager Hank White will recommend the board hire one of several accounting agencies to take over the duties of the business and finance manager once she retires in December. Capraun complained that the board had no input into the recommendation before it was put on the agenda. She also said there was a lack of policies and procedures and no written evaluation for the general manager.
The last GDPUD candidate to speak was incumbent Bonnie Neeley who opened by saying she was concerned about the direction of the board and reductions in the staff. She said the complaints about the financials were unfounded given the pages of documents provided at every meeting. She also defended the general manager, saying he does a good job and has been subject to unfair challenges. She noted that recently the district was notified that they will be receiving a $685,550 grant for the Auburn Lake Trails Plant retrofit. Neeley noted that she was in favor of the planned retrofit of the plant as were a majority of district customers.
In response to questions from the public and from Capraun, Krizl said that GDPUD was not operating with a deficit and in the last fiscal year they had come in under budget. He reminded the audience that while people pay $50 or more a month for a cell phone or satellite TV, they are only spending $23.57 a month for water which is a commodity they can’t do without.
Krizl said regulatory costs are going up 20 percent a year and he said that’s what is driving water rate increases to a large extent. He cited the example of a permit they used to get for free from the U.S. Forest Service that now costs $12,000. “These cost increases are completely out of our control,” he said, “but we have no choice but to comply. We also have to maintain the infrastructure, including 70 miles of ditches. And some of the infrastructure is 100 years old.”
Snelling rebutted Krizl’s comments by attributing the deficits to the Greenwood Lake fiasco.
Capraun said she agreed there are growing regulatory costs but suggested that streamlining district office operations would save money.
In response to a question about the retrofit of the Auburn Lake Trails Plant, both incumbents said they voted for the current plans to retrofit the plant while both challengers said they would have voted for a different, less expensive, option.
With a few other closing remarks, the presentations were completed and Calhoun called an end to the forum by thanking all the candidates.
“That’s what it’s all about, serving your friends and neighbors on the Georgetown Divide,” he said. “These candidates are running and putting themselves on the line to make the Georgetown Divide a better place to live and to work.”
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.