Questions for the candidates: Cambria Community Services District

Five of six candidates for the Cambria Community Services District answered our questions

cambrian@thetribunenews.comOctober 5, 2012 

Muril Clift

What is the district doing right? Where is there room for improvement?

The district is committed to becoming a more service friendly organization. The new general manager has inspired all employees to seek new and innovative ways to serve the public. This has been accomplished with fewer employees, reducing costs and increasing hours available to the public, both over the counter and through the district’s website.

The district will continue to search for ways to improve its service level.

Does Cambria need a supplemental water supply? What is the most promising option?

Yes. Although we have been able to meet the water needs of current residents for the past four years, we have no reserves for drought protection or the ability to serve future ratepayers.

Of the alternatives now being considered, a renewed aggressive conservation program would give us the most immediate results. For the long term the brackish water desalination project, on district property near San Simeon Creek, appears promising. This project would solve the environmental concerns of prior desalination projects.

Under what circumstances should water and sewer rates be raised?

Water and sewer rates provide the funds for day-to-day operations of the system, and current rates are sufficient to pay these operational costs. However, the water and sewer system, like most of us, is aging and needs repair and upgrades. An increase in rates to provide for needed improvements should only be considered after all cost savings are implemented and reasonable new connection fees are imposed on those wishing to construct new buildings.

Tom Gray

What is the district doing right? Where is there room for improvement?

Fiscal management has improved over the past two years, but the work of squeezing out waste and ensuring long-term sustainability is just beginning. Another area for improvement is feedback to customers. The district should bill more frequently so that residents can better track how well they conserve water. And here’s an idea for better customer service: Find a way to be open for business on Friday.

Does Cambria need a supplemental water supply? What is the most promising option?

The answer to the first question is yes. Conservation alone is not enough. Cambria now depends on local watersheds that are vulnerable in severe droughts. These have happened before — when Cambria was much smaller than it is now — and they will happen again. As for options, the most promising is brackish water treatment near San Simeon. This is the lowest-cost plan being considered by the CCSD and it taps into a water source that is reliable in dry years.

Under what circumstances should water and sewer rates be raised?

I see no circumstances under which rates should be raised for current customers. The CCSD should be managed so that it lives within its means. A supplemental water supply can be financed through fees on new construction.

To learn more about my positions on issues facing the CCSD, please email me at tsgray@sbcglobal.net or visit my website, www.tomgrayccsd.com.

Mike McLaughlin

What is the district doing right? Where is there room for improvement?

One obvious difference is the improvement in morale. The organization seems to be on the same page from general manager and board members to staff members. The board meetings themselves are professionally conducted with proper respect shown to citizens.

One area of improvement is the use of highly paid consultants for tasks CCSD staff should be able to do such as conducting a comparative study to establish the fees charged for use of CCSD facilities.

Does Cambria need a supplemental water supply? What is the most promising option?

While Cambrians have responded to the call for water conservation, we must still seek a reliable alternate source of water. After public workshops, the board has decided to review four options: conversion of brackish water through osmosis; diversion of San Simeon’s treated wastewater to our district; upstream reservoirs; and, Whale Rock exchange. All of these have a difficult road ahead through regulatory authorities. I believe the brackish water project holds the most promise.

Under what circumstances should water and sewer rates be raised?

Water and sewage rates should never be raised if district income covers operating costs. If infrastructure needs replacement, operating costs could put a strain on the budget.

In a moderate, measured growth scenario, new homes would pay substantial meter issuance fees to boost CCSD income.

Moderate, measured growth can only occur when it could be demonstrated that our conservation results would equate to no increase in water usage, or we have a reliable, alternate source of water, which meets environmental standards.

Amanda Rice

What is the district doing right? Where is there room for improvement?

With a dynamic new general manager, the district has become much more responsive to the community. Mr. Gruber has begun the long process of taking inventory of our assets and infrastructure and reduced staffing levels for the district. His openness and attention to the basics is refreshing. He and his smaller staff continue to accomplish more, in spite of being spread thin. The district must take the issue of water management more seriously. With good leaders, using tools we already have, we can, without affecting our quality of life, waste less and use water more efficiently.

Does Cambria need a supplemental water supply? What is the most promising option?

We can’t really answer the question of what we need until we ask the right questions. We need to have the data that shows real supply and real demand, both qualitatively and quantitatively. The most cost-effective and simplest option is always the most promising: smarter use of our existing supply could preempt an expensive, engineered solution that would jeopardize the health of our environment. If supplementary water is required, preliminary information seems to point to a storage solution rather than a manufacturing one.

Under what circumstances should water and sewer rates be raised?

State law and common sense are actually aligned when it comes to water and sewer rates. Public water agencies are prohibited from charging any more than the actual cost of providing the water or sewer services (which includes maintenance of the infrastructure and developing new supply). Rates should only be raised if revenue is insufficient to cover the costs of running the system — and only after careful examination of those costs to ensure revenues are being used wisely.

Gail Robinette

What is the district doing right? Where is there room for improvement?

I believe that the board has been successful in its efforts to build community trust and provide more transparency as we deal with district issues. We are committed to making progress in the areas of conservation, infrastructure needs, and generating new revenue.

Aware that we need to hear from a cross section of our diverse community before we take steps to implement important projects, we are working on methods to improve public input as we consider key issues.

Does Cambria need a supplemental water supply? What is the most promising option?

Yes, we need to pro-act before unforeseeable events occur that may affect our water supply, e.g., earthquake, sustained drought.

We are conducting public input sessions with the Army Corps of Engineers. Promising options include: storage ponds near San Simeon Creek; water storage at Whale Rock; San Simeon recycled water for outdoor use; and brackish water desalination. These options will be considered as part of an environmental impact review. Costs, reliability, and maintenance needs were factored into these four options.

Under what circumstances should water and sewer rates be raised?

Presently, I do not anticipate circumstances that would raise water and sewer rates. This board has restructured and reduced CSD staff without compromising service and has developed a budget driven by fiscal prudence based on current rates. I do not expect additional demand on the budget from an increase in employee benefits. As a board member, my expectation is that we will continue to maintain a budget that shows a conservative gain in cash and investments compared to annual expenditures.

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