Officials review cuts in district

Officials with a sanitation district in the South County said this week they are reviewing or enacting cuts to save money, including possibly postponing several capital improvement projects.

John Wallace, the district’s administrator and president of the Wallace Group, said the district may be able to reduce chemical costs to save $150,000 a year and is evaluating its district administrator, engineer and attorney fees to see whether it could reduce those by 20 percent, or about $30,000 to $40,000 annually.

The district’s secretary/bookkeeper has also volunteered to cut her hours starting in January, saving about $50,000 a year in salary and benefits.

The South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District’s $3 million budget has dropped in the past several years as revenue from new development connection fees has nosedived.

In the 2005-06 fiscal year, the district received $498,331 from 257 connections. In 2009-10, it received $67,442 from 17 connections.

So far this fiscal year, from July to September, the district had two connections, receiving $4,950. The district’s other source of revenue is from monthly ratepayers, Wallace said.

The district came under public scrutiny after its board voted in September to eliminate a lab technician position and contract with an outside laboratory to handle some of its wastewater testing in an effort, board members said, to save money.

The cost savings was estimated at about $40,000 this fiscal year and $75,000 in future years.

However, lab technician Devina Douglas maintained she was fired in part because she refused to throw away a sample in April 2009 that would have failed a lab test for a high level of fecal coliform bacteria.

Wallace had disputed Douglas’ claim about the sample and said the layoff was budget-related. He said last Thursday that the results of the sample were reported to the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board in a monthly report.

The test result of that particular sample was inconclusive, Wallace said Friday. The district has since revised its methodology to ensure that the test results clearly show whether a sample is inside or outside the district’s set limit, he said.

In July, the district received a notice of violation from the state Water Resources Control Board outlining six deficiencies and compliance issues, including improper collection of effluent samples.

Wallace said the district had already changed its sampling methods to get a more representative sampling of the wastewater by testing on routine sampling days and on days when maintenance activity was taking place.

The board also discussed postponing several projects, including relocating streetlights, purchasing a new system to lift debris from wastewater as it enters the plant, and relining some but not all of its trunk sewers.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.