Election 2010: Truckee utility district candidates split on GM’s 2010 pay raise
TRUCKEE, Calif. – Candidates vying for the two open positions on the Tahoe Donner Public Utility District board dealt with numerous questions at Tuesday’s forum, including the controversial topic of the board’s past raise for General Manager Michael Holley.
Meeting in town council chambers, incumbents Ron Hemig and Tony Laliotis met with challengers Dan Warren, Joshua Susman and Sarah Allen to answer questions crafted by the public and by the Sierra Sun and Moonshine Ink.
Below are three controversial questions asked during the night and the candidates responses.
Laliotis: “I chose to abstain from that vote mainly because I had no time to understand the background and the reasoning and everything involved around that contract. However, I do strongly believe that Mr. Holley performance over the last three plus years has been tremendous. The contract that he received I think was worthy. He’s a very hot commodity on the market today and we’re lucky to have him here.”
Warren: I do believe Michael Holley brings a lot to the public utility district and he’s very knowledgeable person, very approachable, but there is a time and place for things. I have to applaud Town Manager Tony Lashbrook for not taking a raise this year and I think the same should have been asked to the management of the public utility district. Can he go without because of economic times? Everybody else is suffering we need to make it so we are not rewarding ourselves when everybody else is having a hard time.”
Susman: “In this economy Mr. Holley is doing a great job. There’s no question about it. He should be doing a great job – that’s why he’s the general manager. In this economy a 30 percent raise plus benefit package, plus everything else is kind of unconscionable. I don’t blame Mr. Holley for a moment to be handed this raise on a silver platter. Yet, in this economy how many of us have gotten a 30 percent raise recently. It was a tough one to swallow as a rate payer.”
Hemig: “What was even harder to swallow was three years before that when we decided not to give our previous general manager a raise and he retired. The cost of replacement was in the hundreds of thousands. Those are things I thought about when we were dealing with this particular issue. Somebody has to deal with the consequences. It’s easy to make a statement like ‘he shouldn’t get it’ – I agree with that; politically, that makes sense. But you have to deal with the consequences and the consequences were that we we’re not dealing in a vacuum … I felt drawing a line in the sand was not a healthy thing for the district.”
Allen: “I believe that a cost benefit analysis is crucial whenever you’re faced with an option like that. Mike is a very qualified man. Choosing the general manager is a very important decision. He has saved us, the rate payers, millions of dollars.”
Susman: “The No. 1 issue facing the PUD much like other agencies is retention and the future employees that will be filling those retiring positions at the PUD, a workforce trained and educated to be living in the town.”
Hemig: “What is coming is moving and larger than we can even understand. I think it’s at the federal level. I just found out that the Environmental Protection Agency is putting in restrictions that may end the life of many coal plants within a matter of a few years. Now you may like that but the reality is there is no real replacement for all of that, and we’re talking gigawatts of power. So I am working on a project with Utah Associated Municipal Power System right now. I am the chair of the joint power authority out looking at natural gas purchases of huge quantities to try to get discounts because natural gas is going to be a replacement for coal.”
Allen: “I believe that with the economy, with all of us basically feeling it in the wallet, keeping rates low is going to be huge. The alliance or membership with Utah Associated Municipal Power System is going to be huge. I’d like to have the PUD more grant funded so that we can build up our own infrastructure and so we can prepare for, just in case, so we don’t have another Enron, basically.”
Laliotis: “The biggest thing ahead of the district is the issues of renewable energy and the transition of coal to other resources. We’ve been so lucky to find resources to get us up to the 30 or 40 percent of renewable energy range that are absolutely necessary costs. Those days aren’t going to last, and I think the challenge is going to be looking under every rock to try and find every dollar we can to get the best value of renewable and non-coal power for the customers dollar.”
Warren: “I have to agree with Tony. Getting that reliable renewable power is going to be very, very vital. We already see some preliminary legislation and on state and federal level that is going to require utility companies, especially resident-owned like we are, to have a very high level of renewable power in their portfolio. If we get stuck without that right amount we’re going to have costs associated with it at buying it at such an extreme amount that electricity and water will be hard to afford in this town. So getting that done now so we’re prepared for the future is very, very important.
Allen: “I am definitely for more creative ways to drop the rate. I see that they are making efforts by having water meters you can only change that so much by your habits so there are definitely creative ways. Basically I do not like rate increases. I like finding solutions to lower rates.”
Laliotis: “I think the PUD has actually been very creative so far; they’ve cut almost $2.5 million in cost-cutting measures over the last few years, and a lot of that money avoided rate increases. The rate increases that were approved were very minimal. We have difficult things to deal with right now, state-mandated water meter installations at a cost of almost $8 million. These costs, unfortunately, don’t come with backing from the state. So its really important for us to cut costs and minimize rate increases.”
Warren: Out-of-the-box thinking is definitely going to get you good programs just as long as their well thought out. We can lower our water rates, if we can lower our water rates, if we reduce our amount of usage. It takes a lot of electricity to pump that water. The more we use the higher the rates go. So I look back to the community and would like to educate them. They can help themselves by making sure they conserve as well. I think there’s a lot of great opportunities out there and I think the community holds a lot of those answers.”
Susman: “Last PUD board meeting last Wednesday, the PUD discussed repealing or not instituting the 3 percent electric rate increase that was approved by the voters. But, at what cost? Their going to defer funding $300,000 to electrical reserves this year in order to hold and keep the cost down … They’ve effectively deferred the $300,000 reserve contribution to next year after the election, but we’d be able to hear about the PUD having not raised our rates 3 percent.”
Hemig: “On the water side we’ve had both short-term and long-term initiatives that we’ve been undertaking to hold our rates down. There’s always a time when you have to deal with infrastructure. Now water lines are in the ground so you don’t see them. It might be convenient to defer those expenses. 3-4 years ago we chose not to do that. So we have that behind us, so we’re now saving about 2 million gallons per day.”
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