Monday, August 26, 2013

PSWID board still dysfunctional as ever

[Gazette Blog Editor's comment: Here's the latest from Water for Pine Strawberry, a watchdog group that tries to inject some sense and reason into the proceedings of the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District (PSWID).  While this report is difficult to follow, it does provide some enterataining reading and proof positive that PSWID is still as dysfunctional as ever.]

of July 18, 2013
By Pam Mason
Water for Pine Strawberry

I am reminded of a quote by Alexander McCall Smith... 

“Manners are the basic
building blocks
of civil society.” 

What a pity that good manners and civility are left at the front door by certain PSWID board members when it comes to any discussions or topics that Mr. Sam Schwalm tries to present to the board.  At the last meeting, the cartel consisted of four members, with the loudest being Vice Chairman Mr. Gary Lovetro.   Some topics from the public meeting are as follows.
Mr. Schwalm attempted to give a presentation consisting of six slides.  From what we could determine the information he wanted to share was about the amount of pipe in the existing infrastructure and the kinds of pipe used.  A fracas ensued with Mr. Lovetro asking why this was in Sam’s board member report.  Apparently Mr. Schwalm was told he could not have it as an agenda item but could include it in his report.  Gary Lovetro asked if he was disputing the numbers previously provided by the Accounting Manager, and he felt Sam was talking about capital projects and wanting to refute the budget.  During the outbursts Sam countered with “essentially you are saying that board member reports cannot contain any content.”  Mr. Calderon also interrupted saying this comes under the master plan and we all know the pipe needs to be replaced, and when we have the master plan the possibility is a bond or bank loan. ($7.5 Million)  Mr. Schwalm tried to explain that his intent was not to have a discussion about any capital projects but he had some information and wanted to put it out there.  Mr. Pugel at some point indicated that we don’t self- appoint ourselves as the experts, let’s get it from the people who are in the business.  The lawyer claimed he was not a referee and was not sure where this was going ...  I think your point is that no action will be taken today.  He said that anything that required action should be on the agenda.  Mr. Lovetro accused Mr. Schwalm of circumventing the rules, that he was out of order and it was a potential violation of Open Meeting Law.  The board took a vote to end the presentation with Mr. Pugel, Lovetro, Calderon and Dickinson voting yes and Mr. Weeks and Schwalm voting no.
The Rules and Regulations workshop was held before the regular meeting, and the tendency to ride rough shod over suggestions made by Mr. Schwalm was evident.  When it came to Rules and Regulations for agenda setting, Sam asked if each board member could be allowed one agenda item per meeting.The answer was NO. Secretary Mr. Dickinson declared that if two people asked for the same item it would be a potential violation of OML.  Currently the Chairman and Secretary set the agenda.  Mr. Tom Weeks said that board members should be allowed to put items on the agenda without censorship.  He later remarked “we are elected officials from the community, we should be able to ask to have it put on the agenda and not have it denied by two other people.”  The Fire Department Board always asks towards the end of their meetings if any members have anything they want put on the next agenda. 
After his presentation was cut off, Mr. Schwalm was able to get in an agenda request for a presentation from ADEQ with reference to a Water System Evaluation.  It will again be up to the Chairman and the Secretary if this agenda request ever makes it.  No wonder our agenda request asking if former board member Michael Greer is still working on PSWID property, is ignored.  If a less favored board member has difficulty getting an item on the agenda, members of the public who seek clarification on an issue stand no chance at all!

Water Usage Revenue by Sam Schwalm)

Further on in the meeting Mr. Schwalm was allowed to make a presentation on Water Usage Revenue for FY2014 as an agenda item.  He is concerned whether the revenue had been appropriately forecasted for this year’s budget, and clearly stated that he was not going to be asking to change budget or revenue.  His opinion was that we might be facing a shortfall of $78,540 to $97,468 for FYE 2014.  He explained the point of this agenda item is why that shortfall might occur and if we might be proactive.  His presentation was based on history of water usage revenue and took into account anticipated revenue from the recent rate increases and the meter replacement program.  Mr. Schwalm advised that the meter replacement program is trending at 50% and anticipated at end of FY to be 81%.  Mr. Lovetro challenged Sam when he was speaking, and pointed out DM Brad Cole had just said he will hire additional installers and upped his prediction of meter replacement to 100%.  Sam Schwalm indicated that he was showing the effective meter replacement for the fiscal year. Since meters are being replaced through a significant period of the fiscal year, any additional revenue from the replacement will not have full effect. He also tried to explain the revenue predictions exceeded the amount of water that is reasonably recoverable by meter replacement.   Mr. Calderon interrupted and Chairman Pugel did eventually advise the members to let Mr. Schwalm finish and then they would ask questions and speak with the DM and accounting manager. 

Questions were asked by board members of both Mr. Schwalm and CH2M Hill.  The accounting manager said she was confident in her methods.  Mr. Pugel said that is why we hire experts in that field. In about 3-4 months we will know who is right about the revenue projection and Becki will let us know.  Mr. Weeks said in the long run we will know where we are at.  Mr. Lovetro said as board members we need to let the professionals do their job.  Mr. Weeks remarked that it is a board members duty to ask questions.  At the end Mr. Schwalm made a motion “The board instructs CH2M Hill to identify $80,000 in low priority operations and or capital spending that can be deferred until after the beginning of the year, with that spending contingent on Board approval after actual water usage revenue expectations become clearer.  Motion failed for lack of a second.
During the presentation the audience could hear Mr. Lovetro first at the back of the meeting hall loudly casting aspersions upon Sam Schwalm, and continued on down the side of the room with his back to the presenter.  This writer chastised Gary Lovetro for his rudeness and inability to courteously listen to others.  It is shameful that the public had to witness such boorish behavior from someone who is supposed to represent the community.
Mr. Pugel had an agenda item “to discuss and take possible action related to proposal.” We will provide comments on that in a second email.

District Manager’s report said that over the 4th of July holiday they “struggled to keep Strawberry in water; pumped water from Pine to Strawberry through Magnolia Line.”  Historically Strawberry did not have a water problem, and so we wonder if the the idea of cancellation of water sharing agreements in Strawberry is premature.  Adding to the Strawberry situation was the loss of a water sharing agreement with Mr. McKnight which has since been reinstated.  One of the reasons given for cancelling the WSA was to save money and rely on Pine to supply more water.  Since the water is pumped uphill there is an increased electricity cost and therefore the actual savings of cancelling the water sharing agreements amounts to only about $2,000.00 per year.  Mr. Lovetro stressed that without the Milk Ranch Wells they would not have been able to help out Strawberry.  One can only hope that the pumps or Magnolia Line never fails. 
What was missing from the DM report is any mention of filtration for the three Milk Ranch wells.  Maybe this is an oversight but we would certainly like to know what progress if any has been made.  The second tank is awaiting approval of construction.  Milk Ranch Well #2 is completed and runs at 50 gpm with 75 gpm the recommended maximum rate.  Milk Ranch Well #3 is still under construction. Strawberry Hollow Well (SH3) as of 7/18/13 is still not back online after eight months.  Tank Farm Well pump and motor failed due to excessive wear on the shaft (two years old) and was repaired almost immediately. 
DM again applied to WIFA for a grant in the hope that it can help with costs for a Leak Detection Survey.  The deadline for bids for the survey is July 26th, 2013.
Mr. Weeks commented to the DM that maybe when doing the water meter replacements up in Strawberry that care be taken to properly flush that part of the system to avoid any complaints about grit.  This writer would also ask the same, when PSWID was working on road pipes, three times the shower and faucets cut out on me and I flushed out fresh sand and grit.
It was decided that the need for back flow prevention devices would be determined on a case by case basis by CH2M Hill.  Customers researched the issue and provided information prior to the meeting.
PSWID Lawyer Dan Torrens recently joined a different law firm and will be retained as legal counsel.  During the Rules and Regulations workshop it was declared by Mr. Lovetro that it should be mandatory for legal counsel to be in attendance at every PSWID meeting.  Mr. Pugel said it would be “penny wise and pound foolish” not to have the lawyer always present.  Mr. Schwalm had just suggested that maybe the legal presence should be requested by four board members and not the “standing request” from two to be at every meeting.  Sam suggested that this was a way to cut costs and Mr. Weeks asked how much the legal fees were.  Accounting manager said that they were below budget and Gary Lovetro claimed that the fees were less than those paid as a result of “frivolous complaints and public information requests.”   
Mr. Lovetro should be reminded that the Arizona Attorney General required the board to undergo a remedial session on Open Meeting Law, particularly on serial meetings.  As for every public information request being run by the lawyer first, it is the board’s decision to take that route.  Public documents are supposed to be available for inspection during normal business hours, and not just the work hours of the CH2M Hill Accountant.

(Stay Tuned for Part 2)

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