A San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge has tentatively ruled that the Oceano services district must pay a former board member nearly $75,000 in attorney’s fees stemming from a dispute over the appointment of another board member.
The final ruling has not yet been issued.
But if it stands, the award would place another burden on the small services district, which provides water, sewer, street lighting and fire services to about 7,200 residents.
However, the district set aside money in its 2010-11 budget in anticipation of costs associated with the litigation, said board Vice President Matthew Guerrero.
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“It’s not good news for the district,” Guerrero said. “But it’s not the end of the world. It’s another straw on the camel’s back, but it’s not going to be the one that breaks it.”
When asked of the budget’s reliability, Guerrero said: “That’s the million-dollar question.”
Guerrero said he believed about $56,000 had been set aside; a draft budget shows about $22,246 itemized for “Pamela Dean Litigation.” It was unclear Friday exactly how much had been budgeted.
The incident started in February 2010, when Lori Angello was appointed to the board in a 2-1 vote to replace Barbara Mann, who resigned at the end of 2009. Dean cast the dissenting vote; another board member had abstained from voting.
Dean filed a lawsuit against the district in March 2010, claiming Angello was illegally seated on the board in February of that year because, she said, the board needed three votes to seat Angello and two other candidates had the same number of votes as Angello did.
In January, Judge Charles Crandall ruled the appointment was illegal but did not order Angello to be removed from office. She ran unopposed for a seat in November and is now the board’s president.
On Thursday, Crandall issued a tentative ruling that awards Dean $74,441.
Guerrero said Friday he’s glad the issue is behind the district and hopes local leaders will now turn their attention to the agency’s other issues.
A new interim general manager, Tom Geaslen, was appointed this week, and high on his priority list is finishing up the district’s overdue audits, compiling a budget, reviewing the district’s financials and streamlining future operational expenses.
Water, sewer rates rise
Leaders of the small Oceano Community Services District approved water and sewer rate increases earlier this year, but the new rates are just now appearing on residents’ bills.
It’s unknown how much money they’ll bring into the agency. However, several residents are upset and worried about the higher bills.
“To have it jump this high, for a lot of people it’s going to cause a lot of stress,” said Madeline Casey, an Oceano resident whose bill increased to $206.47 from about $120.
The district board in December started a process to increase the water and sewer rates — which had not been raised in more than a decade — to repay reserves and meet operating expenses.
The bills could also be higher not only because of the increased rates, but also because they cover a 10-week period, said Interim General Manager Tom Geaslen. District employees are also replacing residents’ water meters, and some of the older meters could have been reporting inaccurate consumption rates.