Big changes could be in store at Truckee Donner PUD | SierraSun.com

Big changes could be in store at Truckee Donner PUD

Christine Stanley
Sierra Sun

The two longest-serving board members of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District will face opposition in November when both vie for re-election.

Director Pat Sutton and President Ron Hemig share 30 years combined experience, but Truckee residents Al Farrantine and Patrick Flora are looking for change.

“As a board member, I would like to do everything I could to make the PUD as responsive as possible,” Farrantine said. “Rather than acting like a monopoly, act like there’s competition.”

The district’s board has come under fire in recent months for its decisions to raise both water and electric rates ” at a time when some residents were calling for budget cuts ” and to enter into more than $27 million in debt to finance a pipeline replacement project. The board’s indecision on its proposed broadband project, some say, has also become a bit tiresome.

Broadband has been one of the most talked about district issues in the boardroom and around town, and board members and staff are now saying that a verdict on the project’s future could be determined within the season. The board has consistently voted 3-2 on broadband-related issues, with Hemig voting in its favor and Sutton in opposition, and broadband is one of the issues voters will likely consider as they head to the poles.

“I think that there is a lot of misinformation about broadband and the PUD’s role (in the project),” Patrick Flora said, noting that he will likely favor the project if the PUD will “provide the infrastructure for broadband through its existing fiber-optic supply at a minimal fiscal risk.”

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Also at issue is the district’s budget and finance master plan.

The board has discussed at length the district’s need to develop reserve funds for “a rainy day,” and a new board member could add new financial theories and options to the blossoming plan.

“I think that there are some problems with rate structuring and I would like to help solve the problems,” Sutton said, particularly the difference in utility rates for second homeowners and locals, and the ability to temporarily cease utility services while homeowners are away for long periods.

The district’s power supply contract will end in 2012. If by mid-2009 new power contracts have not been awarded, the district will need to rely on its rate stabilization fund, which is now being paid into, General Manager Peter Holzmeister said. This will ensure that any needed rate increases won’t be too drastic for the public to handle.

The district has also talked at length about the need for water reserves. Of the 6 percent water rate increase that will go into effect in January, 3 percent is marked for this water reserve fund. The other decision the board made a few years ago was to put an additional 2 percent in the water’s capital reserve fund.

These funds are necessary, the board has said, in order to keep up with the constant maintenance and replacement projects associated with the water system. The board will continue to develop its finance master plan in order to chart projections for the next five to ten years.

“I think that there is unfinished business, so I am running to complete some things that have been going on for a long time” Hemig said. “I do think that we are now able to solve some of our deferred maintenance on the pipelines and “would like to see [the board} start talking about metering.”

In the near future and into next year, the board will likely address the topics of metering water, implementing low-income water and electric rates, and building a new corporation yard.